Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Scottish soldiers from the Battle of Dunbar 1650: A prosopographical approach to a skeletal assemblage

Millard, Andrew R.; Annis, Richard G.; Caffell, Anwen C.; Dodd, Laura L.; Fischer, Roman; Gerrard, Christopher M.; Graves, C. Pamela; Hendy, Jessica; Mackenzie, Lisa; Montgomery, Janet; Nowell, Geoff M.; Radini, Anita; Beaumont, Julia; Koon, Hannah E.C.; Speller, Camilla F.

Scottish soldiers from the Battle of Dunbar 1650: A prosopographical approach to a skeletal assemblage Thumbnail


Richard G. Annis

Anwen C. Caffell

Laura L. Dodd

Roman Fischer

C. Pamela Graves

Jessica Hendy

Lisa Mackenzie

Geoff M. Nowell

Anita Radini

Julia Beaumont

Hannah E.C. Koon

Camilla F. Speller


After the Battle Dunbar between English and Scottish forces in 1650, captured Scottish soldiers were imprisoned in Durham and many hundreds died there within a few weeks. The partial skeletal remains of 28 of these men were discovered in 2013. Building on previous osteological work, here we report wide-ranging scientific studies of the remains to address the following questions: Did they have comparable diet, health and disease throughout their lives? Did they have common histories of movement (or lack of movement) during their childhoods? Can we create a collective biography of these men? Strontium and oxygen isotope analysis of tooth enamel investigated childhood movement. Carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis of incrementally sampled dentine addressed childhood diet and nutrition. Metaproteomic analysis of dental calculus investigated oral microbiomes and food residues; this was complemented by microscopic analysis of debris in calculus from ingested materials. Selected individuals were examined for dental microwear. The extent of hydroxylation of proline in collagen was examined as a potential biomarker for scurvy. An osteobiography for each man was created using the full range of data generated about him, and these were synthesised using an approach based on the historical method for a collective biography or prosopography. The childhood residences of the men were primarily within the Midland Valley of Scotland, though some spent parts of their childhood outside the British Isles. This is concordant with the known recruitment areas of the Scottish army in 1650. Their diets included oats, brassicas and milk but little seafood, as expected for lowland rather than highland diets of the period. Childhood periods of starvation or illness were almost ubiquitous, but not simultaneous, suggesting regionally variable food shortages in the 1620s and 1630s. It is likely there was widespread low-level scurvy, ameliorating in later years of life, which suggests historically unrecorded shortages of fruit and vegetables in the early 1640s. Almost all men were exposed to burnt plant matter, probably as inhaled soot, and this may relate to the high proportion of them with of sinusitis. Interpersonal violence causing skeletal trauma was rare. Based on commonalities in their osteobiographies, we argue that these men were drawn from the same stratum of society. This study is perhaps the most extensive to date of individuals from 17th century Scotland. Combined with a precise historical context it allows the lives of these men to be investigated and compared to the historical record with unprecedented precision. It illustrates the power of archaeological science methods to confirm, challenge and complement historical evidence.


Millard, A. R., Annis, R. G., Caffell, A. C., Dodd, L. L., Fischer, R., Gerrard, C. M., …Speller, C. F. (2020). Scottish soldiers from the Battle of Dunbar 1650: A prosopographical approach to a skeletal assemblage. PLoS ONE, 15(12), Article e0243369.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 20, 2020
Online Publication Date Dec 21, 2020
Publication Date Dec 21, 2020
Deposit Date Dec 22, 2020
Publicly Available Date Jan 4, 2021
Journal PLoS ONE
Electronic ISSN 1932-6203
Publisher Public Library of Science
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 15
Issue 12
Article Number e0243369


Published Journal Article (4.4 Mb)

Publisher Licence URL

Copyright Statement
©2020 Millard et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

You might also like

Downloadable Citations