All posts by Archaeology World Team

Ancient mystery in NC: Judaculla Rock holds 1,500-year-old petroglyphs

Ancient mystery in NC: Judaculla Rock holds 1,500-year-old petroglyphs

In the mountains of Jackson County in North Carolina lies a large mysterious rock covered in petroglyphs that have yet to be deciphered. For the Cherokee Indians, the rock and surrounding area is a sacred site where ceremonies used to take place. Indeed, Judaculla Rock is surrounded by rumours and legends, including strange sounds and UFO sightings during the night.

Judaculla and the Cherokee Indians

According to Cherokee oral tradition, in ancient times Judaculla was a slant-eyed giant with seven fingers who lived in the mountainous area, and the stone was his territorial marker. They believed the seven-digit claw marks are his handprints and a long, straight line drawn on the rock was a boundary: cross that, and they were impeding onto his hunting territory.

The name Judaculla means “he has them slanting” or the “slant-eyed giant,” and the Cherokee attributed him with superhuman strength and capabilities like flying or teleporting from mountaintop to mountaintop. Legend had it that Judaculla was even capable of controlling the wind, rain, thunder and lightning.

The Cherokee believed that Judaculla was able to take ordinary people to the spirit world and was able to communicate with people. It appears to be a similar type of god-like creature as the ones mentioned in all mythologies around the world.

Petroglyphs on Judaculla Rock.

The Petroglyph-Covered Judaculla Rock

Judaculla rock can be found just 6 miles (9.66 km) from Cullowhee, an anglicized form of Judaculla-whee, meaning “Judaculla’s Place.” The stone itself is a curvilinear-shaped outcrop of soapstone rock with more than 1,500 petroglyphs all over it. The symbols are tightly packed together and include many stick-like figures, two strange seven-digit hand/claw prints, thousands of cup marks, as well as many other carvings. It measures about 22 meters squared (240 sq ft).

The petroglyphs probably date back to between 2000 and 3000 BC and during digging around the stone, quarry tools were discovered. No other stones in the area were found with similar markings, making the stone even more mysterious. The site has been included on the National Register of Historic Places.

Ancient mystery in NC: Judaculla Rock holds 1,500-year-old petroglyphs
The petroglyphs of Judaculla Rock.

Deciphering the Petroglyphs of Judaculla Rock

Theories about the content of the petroglyphs on the rock are abundant. They span from maps to religious symbols with a secret message or just graffiti made by ancient people.

Rock art may represent animals or humans or other figures of importance. Recently a team of scientists used laser-guided equipment in order to create a detailed view of the Judaculla Rock for studying. Unfortunately, the weather has started corroding the rock and the symbols will gradually disappear since the rock is ­­open to the weather.

Medium reported that in 1945, the Cherokee Chief Blythe believed “the rock carvings to be a record of a peace treaty between the Cherokee and the Catawbas.” Other theories include the petroglyphs representing a “game conservation law,” picture map of a battle or even the record of a treaty. Nevertheless, the ubiquitous gaggle of pseudo-science sleuths is never far behind.

Judaculla Rock.

Rumours and Pseudo-Science Revolving Around Judaculla Rock

Many rumours and legends surround the mysterious rock including strange sounds and UFO appearances. Stories abound about ghost sounds around Judaculla Rock during the night, which Atlas Obscura claims are “made spookier by the location of a cemetery a few hundred feet away.”

Unfortunately, for the time being, the secret meanings of the Judaculla rock will remain locked. In the meantime, a silent battle is taking place to protect the site from over-tourism and to define the true meaning of the site. Some theories even claim that the site is surrounded by electromagnetic anomalies, adding to the enigma of Judaculla rock.

In fact, America Unearthed from the History Channel made a “documentary” about Judaculla Rock back in 2014, much to the dismay of local experts and custodians who opposed the access approved by the county, which has owned the site since the 1960s. “Already, some groups have placed online absurdities about Judaculla and the Rock, encouraging visits to the Rock by some weird or unstable folks,” wrote Keith Parker, whose family owned the Judaculla rock site for decades, in an email at the time to the county in protest at them being allowed to film at the ancient site, reported Smokey Mountain News.

Adding to the mystery, across the Atlantic, within the rolling green hills of Scotland, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of stones engraved with identical cup marks and cup and ring motifs as those evidenced on the Judaculla Rock. This has led some to wonder how it’s possible that somebody in the distant past carved the same motifs on separate continents?

These theories have angered the Cherokee population. “From the Cherokee perspective, Judaculla Rock is a cultural validation of who we are as a people,” wrote Dr Tom Belt, a Cherokee culture and language expert at Western Carolina University to the county in protest to filming by the History Channel, reported Smokey Mountain News. “Correct and conscientious stewardship of these gifts is a moral responsibility to those who have passed and to those yet to come.”

24,000-Year-Old Siberian Boy Sheds New Light on Origins of Native Americans

24,000-Year-Old Siberian Boy Sheds New Light on Origins of Native Americans

Results from a DNA study of a young boy’s skeletal remains believed to be 24,000 years old could turn the archaeological world upside down — it’s been demonstrated that nearly 30 per cent of modern Native American’s ancestry came from this youngster’s gene pool, suggesting First Americans came directly from Siberia, according to a research team that includes a Texas A&M University professor.

Kelly Graf, assistant professor in the Center for the Study of First Americans and Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M, is part of an international team spearheaded by Eske Willerslev and Maanasa Raghaven from the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark and additional researchers from Sweden, Russia, United Kingdom, University of Chicago and the University of California-Berkeley.

Their work, funded by the Danish National Science Foundation, Lundbeck Foundation, and the National Science Foundation, is published in the current issue of Nature magazine.

24,000-Year-Old Siberian Boy Sheds New Light on Origins of Native Americans
The new study shows that ancestors of Native Americans migrated to the Americas from Siberia and not directly from Europe.

Graf and Willerslev conceived the project and travelled to the Hermitage State Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the remains are now housed to collect samples of ancient DNA.

The skeleton was first discovered in the late 1920s near the village of Mal’ta in south-central Siberia, and since then it has been referred to as “the Mal’ta child” because until this DNA study the biological sex of the skeleton was unknown.

“Now we can say with confidence that this individual was a male,” says Graf.

Graf helped extract DNA material from the boy’s upper arm and “the results surprised all of us quite a bit,” she explains.

“It shows he had close genetic ties to today’s Native Americans and some western Eurasians, specifically some groups living in central Asia, South Asia, and Europe. Also, he shared close genetic ties with other Ice-Age western Eurasians living in European Russia, the Czech Republic and even Germany.

We think these Ice-Age people were quite mobile and capable of maintaining a far-reaching gene pool that extended from central Siberia all the way west to central Europe.”

Another significant result of the study is that the Mal’ta boy’s people were also ancestors of Native Americans, explaining why some early Native American skeletons such as Kennewick Man were interpreted to have some European traits.

“Our study proves that Native Americans ancestors migrated to the Americas from Siberia and not directly from Europe as some have recently suggested,” Graf explains.

The DNA work performed on the boy is the oldest complete genome of a human sequenced so far, the study shows. Also found near the boy’s remains were flint tools, a beaded necklace and what appears to be pendant-like items, all apparently placed in the burial as grave goods.

The discovery raises new questions about the timing of human entry in Alaska and ultimately North America, a topic hotly debated in First Americans studies.

“Though our results cannot speak directly to this debate, they do indicate Native American ancestors could have been in Beringia — extreme northeastern Russia and Alaska — any time after 24,000 years ago and therefore could have colonized Alaska and the Americas much earlier than 14,500 years ago, the age suggested by the archaeological record.”

“What we need to do is continue searching for earlier sites and additional clues to piece together this very big puzzle.”

The Spirit Cave Mummy is Over 10,000 Years Old

The Spirit Cave Mummy is Over 10,000 Years Old

The remains were found with moccasins, a rabbit-skin blanket, and many other artifacts.

Mummies are deceased humans or animals that have been preserved, which keeps their remains from decaying any further. While Ancient Egyptians are most commonly associated with the mummification process, there are actually mummies found all over the world.

The process can either be deliberate or accidental.

The Spirit Cave Mummy, wrapped in the material in which it was laid to rest.

Although you may have used toilet paper for a mummy costume in the past, the real method includes wrapping the dead body in linen and embalming it. And on rare occasions, environmental conditions happen to be just right to result in a body’s preservation.

Now you may be wondering who the oldest mummy is, and that honour goes to the Spirit Cave Mummy at 10,600 years old. However, its importance runs deeper than just its old age.

The Spirit Cave Mummy was part of a fierce battle between the government and a Native American tribe over its cultural and scientific significance.

The Spirit Cave Mummy was discovered in 1940 by archaeologists and husband-and-wife team George and Sydney Wheeler. They found several sets of remains in a small rocky cave located in northwest Nevada, one of which was partially mummified.

The mummified man was determined to have died while he was in his forties. His remains were found wrapped in a rabbit-skin blanket and reed mats, and he was still wearing moccasins.

At the time the man’s mummy was found, it was estimated that he died between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago. However, when more advanced testing methods came along in the 1990s, it was found that the skeleton was actually 10,600 years old, making the Spirit Cave Mummy the oldest mummy found in North America.

There was a long legal argument starting in 1997 over who should have possession of the oldest mummy in North America. Native Americans from the region believed that they should have the remains due to cultural affiliation since the mummy was found in their ancestral homeland. However, when the federal government rejected their request for possession, the Paiute-Shoshone Tribe of the Fallon Reservation and Colony sued the government.   

The government alleged that they wanted possession of the remains for scientific research, but the US Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act states that Native Americans have control over resurfaced items and remains to which they have biological or cultural connections.

The US government’s Bureau of Land Management is the agency that declined the tribe’s request. Although a US District Court Judge told the agency to reconsider their decision, no progress was really made with this case for 20 years.

The Great Basin Desert where the Spirit Cave Mummy was discovered in 1940.

Initially, the Paiute-Shoshone Tribe did not want to pursue genetic analysis to prove that the mummy was an ancestor, but eventually, they agreed to do so.

A couple of years later, the DNA sequencing test revealed that the skeleton was in fact related to the indigenous people of North and South America. On November 22, 2016, the mummy was repatriated to the Paiute-Shoshone Tribe and they held a reburial for the remains.

Several scientific findings were made due to the discovery of the Spirit Cave Mummy. It was one of the first to be dated using accelerated mass spectrometer radiocarbon dating, a process that revealed the mummy to be much older than previously thought. It raised further questions about migration patterns in early North and South America. Additionally, a total of 67 artefacts were recovered from the cave along with the mummy, revealing how ancient humans lived and died.

Although it took many years for the mummy to be repatriated to the local Native American tribe, DNA testing ended up being a win-win for all parties involved.

The Paiute-Shoshone Tribe was able to prove ancestry and have the remains returned to them, and the government was able to gain some vital scientific information from performing the test before repatriating the remains.

There is so much more to be discovered about the past, and each finding brings scientists closer to more answers. DNA analysis on the Spirit Cave Mummy gave more insight into early humans and resolved the conflict between the federal government and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe.

Skeletons in Dutch Mass Grave Are British Soldiers

Skeletons in Dutch Mass Grave Are British Soldiers

More than 80 British soldiers who were buried in a mass grave in the Netherlands 200 years ago died of disease rather than during combat, archaeologists have revealed. The mass grave, which contains 82 skeletons, was found by chance in the town of Vianen in November 2020.

Archaeologists discovered the mass grave by chance on the city moat in Vianen in November 2020

The soldiers buried there are believed to have died during the Flanders Campaign of 1793-1795, in which the British fought the French.

The campaign was part of the First Coalition war, which pitched post-revolutionary France against an alliance made up of Britain, Prussia, Russia, the Netherlands and Austria.

Skeletons in Dutch Mass Grave Are British Soldiers
The soldiers are believed to have died during the Flanders Campaign of 1793-1795, in which the British fought the French

Now, analysis of some of the remains has shown that the soldiers endured extremely tough conditions, both in civilian life and after they joined up.

Instead of dying of sabre wounds, musket bullets or artillery fire, they died of disease.

“Most of them died of illness rather than fighting on the battlefield,” Hans Veenstra, an archaeologist, told The Telegraph.

“The conditions in which they lived were extremely poor. They slept in small tents in all weather, their food was not of good quality and there were all kinds of bacteria that had the chance to spread disease.”

The mass grave was found close to the site of what was a British military field hospital, which was set up in December 1794.

The mass grave was discovered close to the site of what was a British military field hospital, set up in December 1794

Of the six skeletons which have so far been examined with isotope analysis of their bones, three are believed to be British – two came from Cornwall and another from a town somewhere in central England. Two others are of possible English descent, while the sixth was German.

“That is not particularly strange because German forces were fighting with the British during the Flanders campaign,” said Mr Veenstra, from De Steekproef, a Dutch archaeological research company.

A mass grave found during research for the new canal

The mass grave was found by chance when archaeologists were conducting research in the area prior to plans to excavate a new canal.

“It was a big surprise, it was found purely by accident. The chances of finding so many bodies, centuries later, is very small,” he said.

While the average age of the soldiers was 26, some were teenagers.

They were buried in wooden coffins but without their uniforms. “Those would have been taken by the army and given to other soldiers,” said Mr Veenstra.

Stonehenge: Archaeologists unearth 10,000-year-old hunting pits

Stonehenge: Archaeologists unearth 10,000-year-old hunting pits

Thousands of pits believed to have been used by prehistoric hunters have been unearthed near Stonehenge. The find, by University of Birmingham and Ghent University researchers, included sites over 10,000 years old.

Stonehenge: Archaeologists unearth 10,000-year-old hunting pits
Researchers say the largest pit is the most ancient trace of how land was used at Stonehenge

One of the pits, which was 13ft (4m) wide and 6.5ft (2m) deep, was the largest of its kind in northwest Europe, the archaeologists said.

The discoveries were made using a combination of novel geophysics and “traditional” archaeology, they added.

The researchers said the pits, dating from between around 8,200 BCE and 7800 BCE, showed hunter-gatherers had roamed the landscape during the early Mesolithic period when Britain was re-inhabited after the last Ice Age.

The discovery was partly made with a technique known as electromagnetic induction survey, which uses the electrical conductivity of soil to provide information that can be used to find materials underground.

It was the first extensive electromagnetic induction survey undertaken in the Stonehenge landscape, according to the University of Birmingham.

The hunting pits were discovered by the archaeologists near the site of Stonehenge

Paul Garwood, senior lecturer in prehistory at the University of Birmingham, said what had been discovered was “not a snapshot of one moment in time”.

“The traces we see in our data span millennia, as indicated by the 7,000-year timeframe between the oldest and most recent prehistoric pits we’ve excavated.

“From early hunter-gatherers to later Bronze Age inhabitants of farms and field systems, the archaeology we’re detecting is the result of the complex and ever-changing occupation of the landscape.”

Dr Nick Snashall, the archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site, said the team had revealed some of the earliest evidence of human activity yet unearthed in the Stonehenge landscape.

“The discovery of the largest known Early Mesolithic pit in northwest Europe shows this was a special place for hunter-gatherer communities thousands of years before the first stones were erected,” Dr Snashall said.

Philippe De Smedt, associate professor at Ghent University, said the combination of new techniques and traditional archaeology had revealed otherwise “elusive” archaeological evidence around Stonehenge.

Major discovery: Iron Age complex found under a house in Turkey village, says study

Major discovery: Iron Age complex found under a house in Turkey village, says study

A bungled looting scheme has led archaeologists to an underground Iron Age complex in Turkey that may have been used by a fertility cult during the first millennium B.C., a new study finds.

Major discovery: Iron Age complex found under a house in Turkey village, says study
The divine procession panel, digitally highlighted in black, is found in the underground complex in Başbük, Turkey.

The ancient complex, which has yet to be fully investigated due to the instability of the structure, has rare rock art drawings on its walls featuring a procession of deities depicted in an Assyrian style.

This art style appears to have been adopted by local groups, indicating how strongly the culture of the Neo-Assyrian Empire — which hailed from Mesopotamia and later expanded into Anatolia — spread to the people it conquered in this region, according to the new study, published online May 11 in the journal Antiquity. 

“The finding bears witness to the exercise of Assyrian hegemony in the region in its early phases,” one of the study’s authors Selim Ferruh Adalı, an associate professor of ancient history at the Social Sciences University of Ankara, told Live Science in an email.

“The wall panel contains a depiction of the divine procession with previously unknown elements, with Aramaic writing to describe some of the deities while combining Neo-Assyrian, Aramaean and Syro-Anatolian divine iconography.”

Authorities learned about the ancient underground complex in 2017 after looters discovered it beneath a house in a Turkish village and decided to target its treasures. However, police foiled the looters, and investigating officials soon found an artificial opening the looters had cut through the floor of the two-story house in the village of Başbük, in southern Turkey.

This discovery prompted the police to notify the Şanlıurfa Archaeological Museum, whose archaeologists determined that the opening, which measured about 7 by 5 feet  (2.2 by 1.5 meters), led to an entrance chamber, carved out of the limestone bedrock, in the underground complex.

The subterranean complex dates to the early Neo-Assyrian period (around the ninth century B.C.) and features an upper and lower gallery, as well as the entrance chamber. The original opening to the entrance chamber has not yet been found.

Museum experts carried out the rescue excavation in August and September of 2018, Adalı said. However, they suspended the rescue excavation after two months because of the instability of the site. The area is now under the legal protection of Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Interpretative sketches of the divine group at Basb̧ük (top) with photographs of the scene (bottom).

During the short period of excavation, archaeologists removed sediment that had fallen due to erosion in the underground spaces, which revealed a decorative rock relief carved into a wall panel.

The panel depicts a procession of gods and goddesses from the Aramean pantheon, some with Aramaic inscriptions next to them.

The excavators sent photos of the inscriptions on the panel to Adalı, who found that the panel had great historical significance.

A photo of the underground complex in southern Turkey.
The short Aramaic text for the moon god Sîn
A section of the panel depicts Hadad, storm, rain and thunder god, and Atargatis, the principal goddess of Syria.
Archaeologists found Aramaic text to the right of the storm god’s head.

The expansion of the Neo-Assyrian Empire into what is now Turkey inspired a cultural revolution, as the Assyrian elite used art from their courtly style to express their power over the local Luwian- and Aramaic-speaking peoples.

The wall panel in Başbük shows how Assyrian art was adapted into the Aramaean style in the provincial towns and villages, the researchers found.

Four of the eight deities depicted on the panel could not be identified, according to the study. The Aramaic inscriptions label three of the gods: the storm, rain and thunder god Hadad; his consort Atargatis, a goddess of fertility and protection; the moon god Sîn; and the sun god Šamaš. The drawing of Atargatis is the earliest known depiction of this goddess, the principal goddess of Syria, in this region, the researchers added.

“The inclusion of Syro-Anatolian religious themes illustrate an adaptation of Neo-Assyrian elements in ways that one did not expect from earlier finds, Adalı said in a statement, “They reflect an earlier phase of Assyrian presence in the region when local elements were more emphasized.”

The deities on the wall panel suggest that it was “the locus for a regional fertility cult of Syro-Anatolian and Aramaean deities with rituals overseen by early Neo-Assyrian authorities,” Adalı told Live Science. One of those authorities might have been Mukīn-abūa, a Neo-Assyrian official who lived during the reign of the Assyrian king Adad-nirari III (811 B.C. to 783 B.C.). The researchers identified an inscription that might refer to Mukīn-abūa. It’s possible that Mukīn-abūa took control of the region, and that he used this complex to integrate with and win over locals, the researchers said.

Meanwhile, the presence of Neo-Assyrian art in this complex doesn’t necessarily mean that the empire’s artists created this panel. Rather, it’s likely that “the panel was made by local artists serving Assyrian authorities who adapted Neo-Assyrian art in a provincial context,” Adalı said. 

He added that the team suspects further excavations will uncover more areas of the underground complex and possibly yield more examples of artwork, as only a small part of the whole site has been explored so far. A full-scale excavation is expected to take place when the entirety of the site has been prepared, according to the procedures of Turkish cultural heritage laws. 

India knew to use iron 4,000 years ago, archaeological findings show

India knew to use iron 4,000 years ago, archaeological findings show

Carbon dating of cultural deposits found during archaeological excavations in Mayiladumparai in Krishnagiri district has found they belong to 2172 BCE, establishing that the Tamils were aware of the use of iron 4,200 years ago.

Representative image.
India knew to use iron 4,000 years ago, archaeological findings show
Representational image of an archaeological dig

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin told the Assembly that the first phase of excavation in 2020-2021 has yielded two important dates – 1615 BCE and 2172 BCE, which provide a new understanding of the nature of cultural deposits.

The AMS dating by Beta Analytical Lab in Florida, US has established three important features – iron appeared in Tamil Nadu as early as 220 BCE, the late Neolithic phase was identified before 2200 BCE as there is a cultural deposit of 25 cm below the dated level, and black-red-redware was in use the late Neolithic phase itself, in contrast to the wider belief that they were introduced in the Iron Age.

Archaeological excavations in Mayiladumparai have found that the date of iron artefacts unearthed ‘ranges from 2172 BCE to 1615 BCE’.

The recent archaeological excavations in Tamil Nadu have thrown up surprises – carbon dating of artefacts in Keeladi, a Sangam Era site near Madurai, and paddy husks found in a burial urn in Sivakalai in Thoothukudi district established their age to 2,600 and 3,200 years old.

“Through the findings, it has been established that Tamils who lived 4200 years ago were aware of iron. Dense forests were converted into fertile lands only after humankind began realising the use of iron. This finding has answered questions relating to the start of agricultural activity in Tamil Nadu,” Stalin said.

He also announced that the Tamil Nadu State Department of Archaeology (TNSDA) will begin work on a comparative study of graffiti found in Keeladi and the signs of the Indus Valley Civilisation.

AMS dating of the Iron Age has so far been done in many places, including in the Gangetic plains and Karnataka, Stalin said, adding that the period that has thrown up in Mayiladumparai is the earliest so far.

“I have been saying that the goal of this government is to establish through scientific methods that the history of India should be rewritten from the Tamil land. The latest findings reinforce our thoughts,” Stalin added.

The Chief Minister also announced that the TNSDA will continue its efforts to trace the journey of ancient Tamils. As part of the efforts, excavations in Pattanam (Kerala), Thalakadu (Karnataka), Vengi (Andhra Pradesh), and Palur (Odisha) will begin this year, Stalin added.

Dr R Sivananthan, Commissioner, TNSDA, told DH that Mayiladumparai can be termed as the earliest Iron Age site in South India as Brahmagiri in Karnataka was the earliest so far with AMS dates going back to 2040 BCE.

“The date we have got for Mayiladumparai is 2172 BCE. It is just about a century and we need more evidence. The earliest evidence of the Iron Age in Tamil Nadu so far was 1500 BCE and Mayiladumparai pushes it back by another six to seven centuries. Since this is just the 1st phase in Mayiladumparai, we should wait for more cultural deposits,” he told DH.

An archaeological expert put the findings in perspective saying that the AMS dating has brought Tamil Nadu “within the Indian framework” as the cultural deposits in Mayiladumparai are 4,200 years old.

“The earliest Iron Age site in Tamil Nadu so far was 1500 BCE old while all other such sites in the country were beyond 2000 BCE. There were a lot of questions on why there was no scientific evidence on the use of iron despite it being mentioned in literature and having rich iron ore in the Salem region. With this, we now have findings,” the expert said.

The report released by the government also spoke about references in Sangam literature on iron, the use of iron, and the methods of making iron weapons. Literature refers to iron as ‘blacksmiths’ and ‘blacksmiths with strong hands’.

“It can be said that the iron industry was very advanced from the fact that many fine words about the iron industry find a place in Tamil literature. One could realise that the iron technology was in an advanced stage as one could find many fine technical terms in Tamil literature,” he said.

18th-Century Bones of Sick Soldiers Identified in the Netherlands

18th-Century Bones of Sick Soldiers Identified in the Netherlands

Eighty-two skeletons found in a mass grave in the Dutch city of Vianen were mainly British soldiers who died of illness in an 18th Century field hospital, archaeologists say. The remains were found outside the city’s old wall in November 2020 and then researched by forensic anthropologist April Pijpelink.

18th-Century Bones of Sick Soldiers Identified in the Netherlands
The skeletons were dug up during excavations in late 2020

All but four were men and many originated in southern England.

“It’s most likely these young men came to fight against the French,” she said.

But they lost their lives because of poor hygiene in a field hospital, she told the BBC. “At first we thought these men died of injuries in battle, but during my research, it became clear that around 85% of them suffered from one or more infections, while basically, all their trauma wounds had healed.”

Samples were taken from six of the skeletons and isotope analysis of their bones concluded that one came from southern England, possibly Cornwall, another from southern Cornwall and a third from an urban English environment. Two more may have been from the Netherlands but of possible English descent while the other was from Germany.

The men would have been treated at a field hospital at Batestein Castle in Vianen. As it was a mass grave and they all died under the same circumstances, a sample of six was sufficient, archaeologist Hans Veenstra told the BBC.

There were two wars there in the 18th Century, but only one involved British soldiers: the Flanders Campaign of 1793-95 against France. German soldiers from Hessen and Hanover worked closely with the British during the campaign.

This was part of the First Coalition war, between post-revolutionary France and several other European powers including Britain, Russia, Prussia, Spain, the Netherlands and Austria.

The bones in the mass grave all came from the same period in the 1790s

From late 1794-to 95, British soldiers have treated a short distance from the mass grave, and the researchers believe that the poor and cramped conditions of army life led to reduced resistance to bacterial infection.

The average age of the adult victims was about 26 although some of those who died were just teenagers. Around 60% showed traces of one or more infections which all had one cause – pneumococcal bacteria.

“If you read history books it’s always about the people in power – mostly about armies and generals, kings and queens but never about the ordinary man who had to do all the dirty work,” said Mr Veenstra, who believed this discovery helped fill in a gap in our knowledge of the time.

“That’s what makes this interesting. They lived in very poor conditions, they all had a poor upbringing with a lot of malnutrition and hard work. They’d already damaged their backs by doing hard labour.”

The skeletons were well preserved because they were found in clay outside Vianen’s historic walls