SCOTTISH soldiers who fought at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650 were mostly young, poor and inexperienced, according to new research into their remains that were found in Durham in 2013.

Archaeologists are currently analysing the corpses of the soldiers, which were discovered in two mass graves during building work at Durham University’s Palace Green library.

As yet, experts from Durham University can only say that between 17 and 28 individuals were buried, and it has been confirmed with near certainty that they were mainly Scottish prisoners captured by Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army at Dunbar.

The graves had been hidden under the buildings and courtyard at Palace Green for more than 360 years. The bodies had originally been tipped into two open pits at what is thought to have been the edge of the castle grounds.

In death the Scottish soldiers were not well treated and were not sufficiently covered, as their bodies show signs of being eaten by rodents.

In life, they were at a huge disadvantage to the New Model Army as Durham University’s Department of Archaeology has revealed that many of the soldiers were between 13 and 25 years old, and the lack of healed injuries is consistent with the historical evidence that many of the soldiers were inexperienced in battle.

The analysis of teeth proved crucial in identifying the soldiers.

“Isotopic analysis could only be carried out on the 13 individuals who had teeth,” according to the department.

“This analysis demonstrated that six of the individuals were almost certainly from Scotland, four were from either Scotland or northern England while another three were likely immigrants from Europe.”

That is consistent with the historical accounts of the defeat for the Scots as they had French and other European soldiers in their army.

The Scots were from disadvantaged communities. “We also noticed large numbers of dental defects on the teeth,” said the department. “These are caused while the teeth are developing and it suggests that many of the individuals came from impoverished backgrounds and suffered from malnutrition and illnesses in childhood.”

In short, the soldiers were from the poorer part of Scottish society and were up against trained cavalry and infantry led by a brilliant general in Cromwell while the Scottish Army was nominally commanded by David Leslie, a former ally of Cromwell’s who was nevertheless under the control of the Kirk Ministers who urged him to attack.

On September 3, 1650, Cromwell realised that the Scots had left a strong position, and said: “The Lord hath delivered them into our hands!” Despite being outnumbered, Cromwell attacked and scattered the Scottish army, with between 1,000 and 3,000 killed as the Scots fled.

As many as 6,000 Scots were taken prisoner and it was some of these who were force-marched south to Durham where they perished, reportedly of starvation and disease.

In an unusual development, the researchers are launching a new blog which will broadcast the progress as they record the bones digitally using 3D modelling techniques.

Blog author Beth Upex, an archaeological technician at the university, wrote: “We would like to know more about the circumstances of the battle and march south, and see if we can find any evidence for other mass graves as yet undiscovered.

“We know when these individuals died, which is pretty unusual in archaeology and gives us an opportunity to connect historical evidence with the skeletal evidence at a finer level than usually possible.

“What we find out could tell us more about the lives of the ordinary people in 17th-century Scotland in general. Eventually the remains will be reburied.”