Mass Grave from Thirty Years’ War unearthed

Analysis of bones from the Battle of Lützen, Germany, in 1632 AD revealed much information about the violent lives and deaths of soldiers from the times of the Thirty Years’ War.

Skeletons found in the mass grave (by J. Lipták, O. Schröder)

The Thirty Years’ War was fought between Catholics and Protestants from 1618 to 1648. Battle of Lützen on November 16th, 1632, marked a turning point as the Swedish King Gustav II Adolf, supporting the Protestant forces, was killed in a fight against General Albrecht von Wallenstein, commander of the Holy Roman Empire’s imperial troops.

Bullet wound (by Nicole Nicklisch)

The site of the battle was discovered in 2006 after a metal-detector survey turned up about 3,000 projectiles, ammunitions and other objects from the fight. The mass grave was found in 2011. The remains were lifted from the ground in a 55-ton block of soil, split into two to allow careful bioarchaeological analysis of 47 individuals within the removed soil.

Marks of healed injuries (by A. Hörentrup)

According to the results, sixteen of the individuals had experienced previous head injuries. One man had even suffered four head wounds in previous conflicts before he died. Twenty-one had other healed or healing bone injuries, like fractures in the arms, legs and ribs. Some men had cut marks and slash wounds on their bones. More than half of the men had been hit by gunfire. Twenty-one suffered gunshot wounds to the head, and 11 of them had bullets still lodged in their skulls.

Skull with a bullet wound (A,B,E,F) and the lead bullet (C,D,F) (by K. Bentele, Nicole Nicklisch, S. Brandt)

The high number of gunshot wounds was unusual for the time, but matched one account of the battle – a surprise attack by a cavalry unit from the Catholic imperial army on an elite unit of the Swedish army called the Blue Brigadesuffered. Remains of bullets reveal that the soldiers had been attacked with pistols, muskets and carbines—weapons that cavalrymen used for short distances. The researchers speculate that most of the men buried in this grave were fighting for the Swedish army, though it’s likely soldiers for the imperial Catholic army ended up in the pit, too.

(after Live Science, Nicole Nicklisch, Frank Ramsthaler, Harald Meller, Susanne Friederich, Kurt W. Alt, J. Lipták, O. Schröder, A. Hörentrup, K. Bentele & S. Brandt)

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