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Mass grave from the Battle of Wittstock

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  • Mass grave from the Battle of Wittstock

    Article in Der Spiegel


    Europe's soil is blood-soaked from centuries of fighting but rarely yields mass graves from battles that took place before the two world wars. One such grave has now been found near Berlin with over 100 soldiers who died in the 1636 Battle of Wittstock. Archaeologists say they can learn much from the skeletons which show terrible wounds.
    ...
    Historians and archaeologists called to examine the neat rows of skeletons quickly concluded that they were men who died in the Battle of Wittstock on October 4, 1636, when a Protestant army of 16,000 Swedes beat a force of 22,000 from the Catholic alliance of the Holy Roman empire and Saxony. Some 6,000 men died in the fighting.

    Archaeologists are now excavating the site and have started to examine the skeletons, many of which show the dreadful battlefield wounds that killed them - bones smashed by heavy blades, skulls torn open by musket balls.
    The rarity of such graves may seem astonishing given the hundreds of battles that shaped Europe's blood-drenched history. But the battlefields often stretched over a number of square miles, and the dead tended to be buried individually where they fell.

    "They were stripped of clothing and weapons and anything else usable and usually just buried on the spot," said Grothe. "People didn't want to cart the corpses from one place to another."

    Only Four Other Mass Graves
    She said that apart from the find in Wittstock, only four other mass graves in Europe that were associated with specific battles had been discovered:
    * on the Baltic island of Gotland, dating from a 1361 battle between Sweden and Denmark
    * in the northern English village of Towton. A grave containing 43 soldiers was discovered underneath Towton Hall in 1996. They are believed to have died in the Battle of Towton in 1461 during the English Wars of the Roses
    * a grave in northern Germany linked to the Battle of Hemmingstedt in 1500 when peasants defeated an army of knights
    * in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, where the remains of 2,000 soldiers from Napoleon's Grand Army were found in 2002. They died during Napoleon's disastrous retreat from Moscow. Many of the skeletons were found curled up and undamaged, suggesting they were killed by cold, not cannonballs or bullets.
    ...
    "We can get exciting insights into the lives of the soldiers," she said. "For example we can find out things about the men's general health from their tooth decay. At least three bodies show signs of syphilis. And we can check the bones for disease and examine the impact on the bodies of the strains of the soldiers' life - carrying heavy weapons, shoving cannon, hauling baggage trains."
    Most of the corpses had been stripped before they were buried and only evidence of their undergarments remains in the form of metal hooks and loops, she said. "Everything that was usable in any way was taken off them -- shoes, weapons, upper clothing."
    Here is a gallery of of photos from the excavation. It's been around for a bit, but there's not a whole lot of information so I didn't post it earlier. But now there's some context.

    And some quick links to some of the other sites mentioned

    Visby, Gotland
    Towtown
    Vilnius
    Sorry-couldn't find anything on Hemmingstedt. First I've heard of it.
    Every 10 years a great man.
    Who paid the bill?

  • #2
    Cool find.
    And it's over the mountain and over the Main,
    Through Gibralter, to France and Spain.
    Pit a feather tae your bonnet, and a kilt aboon your knee,
    Enlist my bonnie laddie and come awa with me.

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    • #3
      Excellent read, i found it very interesting.
      Never Fear the Event

      Admiral Lord Nelson

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      • #4
        Why are modern burials considerd "war graves" and untouchable, while guys like these are subject to disassembly, study, and put on a shelf somewhere?

        Ax, sword, cudgel and bullet wounds don't really vary. I'm not real convinced there is much new to learn.

        I'm all for history, but sometimes I think they should let them rest.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Trung-si View Post
          Why are modern burials considerd "war graves" and untouchable, while guys like these are subject to disassembly, study, and put on a shelf somewhere?
          I can't speak for Germany specifically, but usual practice is study and reinterment. My bet is that will happen in this case. As for why they were excavated, historical burials are usually not excavated by archaeologists unless they interfere with a business (this doesn't include disturbance by tweakers with metal detectors looking for belt buckles). In this case
          Workers came across the graves by chance while digging in a sand pit near the town of Wittstock, northwest of Berlin, in June.
          The Towtown grave was also discovered by a construction crew. It's a case of drop the job or move the burials.

          Ax, sword, cudgel and bullet wounds don't really vary. I'm not real convinced there is much new to learn.
          Not a CSI fan I see . Actually these wounds do vary tremendously, depending on the weapon, how the wound was delivered and where it fell. For example, the Visby graves showed a pattern of wounds that indicated consistent fighting techniques. Mediaeval Skulls from Zaimokuza in Japan also showed wounds that indicated a completely different style of fighting. And beyond the individual wounds, there is the percentage of different weapons being used, as indicated by wounds. There is also more general social and demographic information--pathologies, age, health.

          Admittedly burials did used to be dug up simply for "research fun" (especially if they weren't Christian) and stored in museums, but that is usually not the case these days.
          Every 10 years a great man.
          Who paid the bill?

          Comment

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