Reconstruction of a 17th-century Scottish soldier from the Battle of Dunbar

reconstruction-17th-century-scottish-soldier_3Credit: Face Lab LJMU

The brutal Battle of Dunbar fought in 1650 AD, as a part of the Third English Civil War, was contested between the Parliamentarian forces commanded by Oliver Cromwell and the Scottish army commanded by King Charles II-loyalist David Leslie. It ended in a short yey decisive Scottish defeat, with possibly over 2,000 deaths on their side, accompanied by around 10,000 captured prisoners. 3,000 of these prisoners were confined in the Durham Cathedral and Castle (many of whom died during their incarceration). And one of these unfortunate souls has now been digitally reconstructed after more than 350 years, thus providing us with a glimpse into the historicity of a 17th-century Scottish soldier.

The project was a collaborative effort from the researchers at Durham University and the experts from Face Lab (based at John Moores University). In fact, the endeavor was fueled by the original discovery of the skull and skeletons of the prisoner (given the moniker of Skeleton 22) that were discovered back in 2013 by Durham University archaeologists. The first step for the reconstruction entailed the assembling of these skeletal remains for a detailed scan. This digital scan formed the basis of the recreation scope, while the artists additionally used crucial information from the archaeologists about the historical scenario and the age of the Scottish soldier in question here. Suffice it to say, the experts also added the blue-colored bonnet, brown jacket, and shirt – thus depicting the typical attire of Scottish soldiers of the time.


Credit: Face Lab LJMU

Reconstruction expert extraordinaire, Professor Caroline Wilkinson said –

This unique facial image was created using the very latest techniques housed at Liverpool John Moores University’s Face Lab. This combines 3D craniofacial depiction system with digital modeling software and facial and anatomical datasets, which can provide the most accurate and lifelike, images of an array of fascinating archaeological and forensic art depictions. In this case, our collaboration with Durham University enabled us to draw on scans and data to create the most accurate and lifelike image possible to enable a true glimpse into the past of this Scottish soldier and how his life had been lived. It will join a collection of work by Face Lab reconstructing historical figures including Robert the Bruce, Richard III, and St Nicholas.

Now according to previous archaeological analysis on Skeleton 22, researchers came to the conclusion that this male Scottish soldier met his demise at an early age ranging between 18 to 25. And previous to his life as a soldier, the subject hailing from South West Scotland (circa the 1630s), did suffer periods of poor nutrition during childhood. Professor Chris Gerrard, of Durham University’s Department of Archaeology, said –

Analysis of the dental calculus has revealed a lot about the conditions in which this man, known to us only as ‘Skeleton 22’, grew up. This information combined with the digital facial reconstruction gives us a remarkable, and privileged, glimpse into this individual’s past.

The archaeological assessment of the remains of many of these 17th-century Scottish soldiers, discovered at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Palace Green, is still an ongoing process. Interestingly enough, the researchers also found out how some of the imprisoned men from the area were transported across the Atlantic to the United States, specifically to the New England regions like Massachusetts and Maine. And in spite of their release from incarceration, life didn’t really get much better for these ex-soldiers, who had to work as indentured servants in ironworks and sawmills. A few others were sent to France to fight, and the remaining ones – prisoners who didn’t die from diseases (like the reconstructed subject), had to be locally employed in coal mines and salt pans.

Lastly, on the conscientious side, after the analysis is completed, Durham University will rebury the skeletal remains of the Scottish troops at the Elvet Hill Road Cemetery in Durham City, an area which is close to the original site of their mass grave. The university researchers will also hold an exhibition in 2018 titled as Bodies of Evidence: How Science Unearthed Durham’s Dark Secret, at the Palace Green Library – and it will cover their archaeological research relating to the forgotten Scottish soldiers.

Source: Durham University