Deprivation and deportation: What the teeth of the soldiers found in a mass grave in Durham can tell us

| 26 August 2016

The teeth of the soldiers discovered in a mass grave in Durham have already given experts an idea of what their lives were like. Dr Pam Graves, of the Department of Archaeology at Durham University, explains how

A photo of a set of bones of scottish soldiers discovered in durham
© North News & Pictures ltd
“It’s one thing to read stark things about terrible famines in Scotland from the late 16th century through to the 17th century. It’s quite another to actually see that marked out on people’s bodies, and that’s what people can tell us about the conditions of their lives.

But biologists and paleopathologists also understand that conditions in the womb - deprivation and dietary restrictions - can also affect children. So these individuals may be giving us an indication further back in time through the generations of their parents and perhaps even their grandparents.

A photo of a set of bones of scottish soldiers discovered in durham
© North News & Pictures ltd
We’re actually seeing the effect of long-term deprivation on communities through these people. We don’t know their names but they are giving us valuable, and I’d say privileged, insights into that period of time.

We have done isotope analysis on the teeth that allows us to see regions from where these people may have come. The isotopes in the soil affect what they eat and you can, therefore, tell where they came from.

A photo of a set of bones of scottish soldiers discovered in durham
© North News & Pictures ltd
We’ve got to do more analysis on that. We can do further examination of the skeletal formation to tell us about any trauma from dietary restrictions or other impact that their lives had on their bones.

We’re doing a three-dimensional imaging of the shape of their jaws and their teeth to see what that can tell us about their lives, and then on top of that the calculus, that grows on top of your teeth, is like a time capsule of all the events in your life: diseases and pathogens get contained within it. We’re going to analyse that as well.

A photo of a set of bones of scottish soldiers discovered in durham
© North News & Pictures ltd
We’re going to find documentary evidence as much as possible: perhaps any named relatives, look for wills, look for records on Scottish registers, church records, and also records from places where survivors were sent.

We know some of the soldiers who survived were kept in the local area. Some worked in pits and perhaps County Durham. Some were sent to be weavers in the industries in Newcastle, some were sent to help in the fens.

A photo of a set of bones of scottish soldiers discovered in durham
© North News & Pictures ltd
The people about whom we know most are those who were assigned to be sent to the American colonies. They were sent down to London first. There are various papers about their conditions.

Then they went sent on the ship, The Unity, to Massachusetts and Maine, to help support developing industry: ironworks, sawmills, places like Saugus in Massachusetts, a place called Braintree.

Because they served a limited period of time, they were released after seven years and we know the names of some of the people who were released, they were in some cases able to buy farms and set themselves up. They stayed there and their descendants are in contact with us to this day.”


More on the discoveries

"These are men who fought and died together": Dismembered soldiers found in mass grave to be reburied in Durham

Durham skeletons were pipe-smoking young prisoners of war kept in cathedral after Battle of Dunbar

Plaque problems and pipe clenching: Take a look at the teeth from the 17th century soldier skeletons found in Durham
Latest comment: >Make a comment
    Back to article
    Your comment:
    DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted at www.culture24.org.uk are the opinion of the comment writer, not Culture24. Culture24 reserves the right to withdraw or withhold from publication any comments that are deemed to be hearsay or potentially libellous, or make false or unsubstantiated allegations or are deemed to be spam or unrelated to the article at which they are posted.
    sign up to our newsletter to hear about Culture24's new website

    Events

    • 1 mile
    • 2 miles
    • 3 miles
    • 4 miles
    • 5 miles
    • 10 miles
    • 20 miles
    • 50 miles
    • Any time
    • Today
    • This week
    • This month
    • This year

    advertisement