THE bones of 12 men who could have been executed in York at the time of the War of the Roses will go on display in the city next month.

Work by Northern Powergrid on the Knavesmire unearthed the bones and radiocarbon dating of two of the skeletons found they could be dated to around the 1460s.

On Friday York Archaeological Trust put one of the skeletons on display for the media.

City Archaeologist at City of York Council, John Oxley, said: "It's rare to find skeletons that are potential execution burials. What's particularly rare about this is the context in its location next to Tyburn, where convicted criminals were executed right up to 1802.

"These are a group of individuals that have been buried without an Christian ceremony and we can say with a real degree of certainty that it is an execution burial around about the time of the War of the Roses. Richard III came to the throne in 1483 so he would probably have been at Middleham at the time these men died."

Mr Oxley said he suspected the bones belonged to rank and file soldiers rather than anybody high ranking.

The first bones were discovered in November 2013 by Northern Powergrid and its contractor, Interserve, which were working on Tadcaster Road.

Due to York being one of only five designated UK areas of archaeological importance, Northern Powergrid, Interserve, City of York Council and York Archaeological Trust worked in partnership throughout the project.

A team of archaeologists remained present on site at all times and, on discovering the first bones, were called on to examine the find and start the process of carefully uncovering the skeletons. After initial excavations the team realised that this discovery was something very unusual.

Northern Powergrid provided the £13,000 needed to make further excavation work possible to reveal more of the historic secrets beneath the ground.

Meticulous excavation in two trenches revealed 12 skeletons. Analysis by the Trust’s Dickson Laboratory and radiocarbon dating of two of the skeletons found that they could be dated to around the 1460s.

The skeletons were identified as male and mostly aged between 25 and 40 at the time of their death. Two had significant bone fractures which could be evidence of fighting, perhaps associated with professional soldiers.

Ruth Whyte, Osteo-archaologist for York Archaeological Trust said: “We knew this was a fascinating find as, unlike 15th century Christian burial practice, the skeletons were all together and weren’t facing East-West.

“They may have been captured in battle and brought to York for execution, possibly in the aftermath of the Battle of Towton during the Wars of the Roses, and their remains hastily buried near the gallows.”

Dave Smith, Northern Powergrid’s Project Engineer, said: “To unveil a piece of history as part of our £7 million project to reinforce York’s underground cable network and create additional capacity for the future is amazing.”

The skeletons have been handed over to York Archaeological Trust to protect and preserve. Arrangements are also underway to exhibit one of the skeletons as part of the city’s Richard III Experience at Monk Bar in March.