The final resting place of thousands of Royalist soldiers killed in the English Civil War may have been revealed using new drone technology.
Amateur archaeologist Tony Hunt found the mass graves at White Sike Close, near the A59 between Harrogate and York, using drones equipped with infrared and thermal imaging cameras.
“The great thing about this site is that we know exactly where the bodies are supposed to be – the pits are very well attested by historical accounts – and we know that there has been no development here, only agriculture, since the battle. When we do a wider survey, the surrounding area looks very homogeneous – these are the only anomalies.
“So we have the right size, the right location, written records and even different growth patterns in vegetation growing here. I’m as sure as I can be that these are the burial pits for the Royalist dead.”
The soldiers were killed making a last stand at the Battle of Marston Moor, which was fought on July 2, 1644. The battle was the largest of the English Civil War, and the Parliamentarians’ victory effectively ended Royalist influence in the North of England. King Charles I was beheaded less than five years later.
Estimates of casualties vary, but it is believed that at least 300 Parliamentarians and 4,000 Royalists were killed at the battle.
The battlefield site, which is registered on the National Heritage List for England, lies within the boundaries of the Harrogate district.
Chris Rock, Yorkshire regional chair of the Battlefields Trust, said:
“The Battlefields Trust is always interested in any possible evidence of the conflict sites in the country. Despite being a registered battle site with Historic England, this does not automatically give it protected status, and is thus open to illegal activity.
“Only by working closely with those who used the land or are landowners can we hope to protect and preserve any possible battle proof. We look forward to any future excavation work if allowed and will always work in partnership with those who have the same aims of preserving our history.”
But Mr Hunt says he doesn’t want to investigate further. He said:
“Just knowing they’re there is enough for me. I can’t see any benefit in opening up the poor lads’ graves.”
The English Civil Wars were fought between 1642 and 1652 and pitted King Charles I and his Royalists against the Parliamentarians, led by Oliver Cromwell, who generally believed in the primacy of Parliament over the monarch. It resulted in the execution of the king and the establishment of the Commonwealth of England.
Mr Hunt has a degree in archaeological sciences from Bradford University and is currently managing director of DJ Assembly, a York-based micro-electronics company. He also runs Yorkshire Aerial Archaeological Mapping, whose thermal and infrared imaging technology revealed the burial pits.
He has previously used his drone technology to locate many other sites of historic interest. Last summer, he found a missing section of Roman road, and early this year he discovered a suspected prehistoric henge under the village of Kirk Hammerton.
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