The Mystery of the Waterloo Dead Soldiers Will Be Reexamined by Academics | Archeology


It was an epic battle that has been commemorated with words, poetry and even a legendary song by Abba, but 207 years to the day after the troops clashed at Waterloo, a horrifying question remains: what was it? happened to the dead?

While tens of thousands of men and horses died at the site in modern-day Belgium, few remains have been found, with amputated legs and a skeleton unearthed under a parking lot south of Brussels among the handful of finds.

The long-standing explanation is macabre: According to reports shortly after the conflict, the bones were collected, pulverized and turned into fertilizer for agricultural use.

“It is certainly a singular fact that Great Britain sent multitudes of soldiers to fight the battles of this country on the continent of Europe, and then imported the bones as an article of trade to fatten her soil!” reported the London Observer in November 1822.

Now a battlefield expert has said that while the theory is credible, further fieldwork is needed to investigate such claims.

Writing in the Journal of Conflict Archaeology, Professor Tony Pollard, director of the University of Glasgow’s Battlefield Archeology Centre, has collected vivid descriptions and images from those who visited Waterloo in the aftermath of the battle of 1815, which pitted Napoleon’s forces against a British-led coalition and a Prussian-led one.

Reports reveal the horror of the scene, including a morbid encounter with “a human hand, almost skeletonized, stretched above the ground”, as writer Charlotte Eaton describes it.

Pollard added that the search yielded a number of surprises, “including the discovery of female bodies – at least one of whom was dressed in French cavalry uniform”, he said.

But while the accounts include testimonies of burned bodies, they also refer to burials, often with information about their location.

“The bodies were buried in some places by the hundreds in large pits, but in other places they were buried singly or in small groups – the graves were like molehills stretched across the fields,” Pollard said. .

Now, as senior scholar and archaeological director of the charity Waterloo Uncovered, Pollard and his team are set to return to the battlefield next month to continue their archaeological investigation, aided by eyewitness testimony. .

“Even if the bone removal stories are true, I don’t expect all the graves to have been emptied, and we have few clues to the whereabouts of any surviving graves,” Pollard said. “It would be really interesting to find evidence of pits from which bones have been removed – that’s the kind of disturbance that would produce a geophysical anomaly.”

Among other work, the team will begin a battlefield-scale survey using geophysical techniques such as electromagnetic methods.

Dr Kevin Linch, a University of Leeds expert in the Napoleonic Wars, who is not involved in the work, said there was good reason to claim the bones of the dead were used as fertiliser, although other activities, such as plowing or scavenging by animals, could have led to their dispersal.

Linch added that Waterloo Uncovered was important not just because of the information it can provide, but because the charity involves modern-day veterans who live with injury or trauma.

“As the Napoleonic & Revolutionary War Graves Charity recognizes, finding and recognizing war graves from this era is as important as any other, and archaeological research has the potential to tell us much about the life and death of soldiers, and can even identify the burial of some people,” he said.


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