Archaeologists find more bodies at Durham University site

A mass grave emerges as archaeologists continue to dig in area of Durham Cathedral.


Durham University archaeologists have found the remains of many more human bodies at a dig on the City’s World Heritage Site, providing clear evidence of a centuries-old mass grave.

The number of bodies found has risen from four to 18.

Experts first thought they had uncovered remains of Durham Cathedral’s medieval cemetery, whose boundaries may have extended further than the present day burial site.

But further investigation has revealed an unorthodox and intriguing layout to the bodies which archaeologists say is proof of a mass burial.

Richard Annis, senior archaeologist, Archaeological Services Durham University, said: “We have found clear evidence of a mass burial and not a normal group of graves.

“One of the densest areas of the excavation was further north, which is further away from the edge of the presumed graveyard.

“The bodies have been tipped into the earth without elaborate ceremony and they are tightly packed together and jumbled.

“Some are buried in a North to South alignment, rather than the traditional East to West alignment that we would expect from a conventional medieval burial site.”

The same Durham University team will carry out further research into the remains, which will include dating the bones and looking for clues as to their origin. This work is expected to begin in the New Year. 

Mr Annis added that no definitive interpretation could be offered at this stage in the investigation: “The process of post-excavation processing, examination and analysis is essential to allow us to draw proper conclusions about this group of human remains.

“It is too early to say what they may be.”

The evidence of human remains was found earlier in November during building work at the University’s Palace Green Library.

With the necessary permission from the UK’s Ministry of Justice, archaeologists are carrying out excavation works in the area before taking the bones away for further examination. By law, the bones must eventually be reinterred at an approved burial ground.

Palace Green Library is undergoing a £10m development to establish world-class exhibition and visitor facilities, part of a £30m total investment in Durham University library services.


Source: Durham University Press Release, November 29, 2013

Cover Photo, Top Left: Courtesy Durham University Archaeological Services and Durham University News

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