CAMPAIGNERS seeking to return the bones of Scottish soldiers to their native soil have accused archaeologists of not showing the remains the respect usually given to other indigenous people.

The group have spoken of their disappointment after a decision was made to re-inter the bones of prisoners of war who died after being captured by Oliver Cromwell's troops nearly 400 years in an English churchyard.

The remains are those of the Dunbar Martyrs, soldiers who were captured after the battle in 1650 and taken on a brutal forced march 111 miles south, where many died of disease an exhaustion.

Between 17 to 28 skeletons were discovered in a mass grave close to Durham Cathedral in 2013, and a widespread consultation was launched over their future.

Durham University has now said they will be reburied in a nearby churchyard, which has been criticised by campaigners who drew comparisons with the reverential way the bones of Richard III were treated after being uncovered underneath a carp park in Leicester, along with other bones held by museums.

In an email to the University following the announcement, George Wilson, who launched a petition last year to gather support to bring the bones to Scotland, said: "At our meeting we had drawn international comparisons relating to the repatriation of the remains. For example, relation to Native Americans, Aboriginal and Maori peoples.

"There is no explanation provided as to why you felt these comparisons should be dismissed. Further, why the remains of Richard III should be treated so differently to that of ordinary Scottish citizens."

Mr Wilson added: "Whilst I appreciate the University have consulted widely and considered carefully prior to coming to their decision, I feel that rather than taking the opportunity to gracefully lay to rest the dark chapter of history related to the treatment of the "Dunbar Martyrs" you have instead left it bare for future generations as an open wound.

The remains were found in a mass grave during construction work on the university's Palace Green Library cafe.

None of the skeletons exhumed is complete and, in keeping with archaeological best practice, only those remains directly affected by the construction work were exhumed.

The discovery solved the mystery over where an estimated 1,700 prisoners from the battle died and were buried, and it is believed that there are more mass graves under buildings close to the Cathedral.

Professor David Cowling, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Arts and Humanities at Durham University, said the decision was complex, adding: "We were acutely aware of the strength and depth of interest amongst many about the fate of these soldiers, whilst at the same time recognising our ethical, moral and legal obligations."

Canon Rosalind Brown, of Durham Cathedral, said: "The hope of both Durham Cathedral and Durham University is that interested parties will join us in planning a fitting and dignified reburial and commemoration for the soldiers.

"We will also be working closely with both the local church and churches in Scotland to plan this."

After Cromwell's unexpected victory over Scottish forces who supported Charles II, around 6,000 were captured, with 1,000 of the sickest being freed.

A further 1,000 of the hungry, defeated soldiers died on the gruelling march south, while many escaped and some were shot for refusing to walk further.

Around 3,000 Scots were imprisoned in Durham's then abandoned castle and cathedral, with an estimated 50 dying every day.

Archaeological analysis of the skeletons found the men were mainly young, inexperienced soldiers.