Scientists are now analyzing the human remains to try to learn more about the identity of the dead.
The battle was fought on June 18, 1815, near the village of Waterloo, south of Brussels. Napoleon Bonaparte was finally defeated here by the Duke of Wellington’s combined Allied army of 68,000, supported by 45,000 Prussians under Gabbard von Blcher.
While more than 10,000 people are believed to have died during the war, only two bodies have ever been discovered.
Historians have recently revealed that many of those who fell in Waterloo were later dug up by farmers, who sold their remains to the sugar industry for use in industrial processes.
Last November, Bernard Wilken, a senior researcher at the Belgian State Archives, was speaking in Waterloo about the process – in which the bones are used as a type of charcoal in refining sugar – when some were surprised. what happened
After the conversation, he told CNN, “This old man came up to me and said ‘Dr. Vulcan, I have the bones of these Prussians in the attic.’
The man, who wishes to remain anonymous, showed Vulcan pictures of the bones and invited him to his home near the battlefield at Plasnoit, where Napoleon’s forces faced off against the Prussians.
A few days later, Vulcan visited the man at his home and came face-to-face with his remains, which the man had had since the 1980s. He explained that he ran a “small private museum” at the time and had given them to him for display by a friend who had found them a few years earlier.
Despite his collection of Napoleonic memorabilia, the man told Vulcan that he “morally” could not bring himself to display the remains, so stored them in his attic.
Vulcan said of the man, who lives alone: ”He suddenly decided that he was old and might die in the next few years and he was afraid of what would happen to the bones. When he Looking at the research we released last summer, he thought, ‘This guy knows about bones and the Napoleonic Wars and he works for the government.’
Wilkin said he felt “a mixture of shock and emotion” when he saw the remains.
“A skull was deeply damaged by a sword or bayonet, so it was a very cruel way to die,” he said.
Preliminary examination revealed that the remains belonged to at least four soldiers. Objects found near the bones, including leather and bone buttons, as well as the location where they were discovered, suggested that some of the dead were Prussian soldiers.
Wilkin said: “At the end of the day he gave me all the boxes to study. His one request of me was to give him a dignified burial.
That’s definitely the plan, but right now the remains are undergoing extensive forensic testing in Liège, where Vulcan is based. Scientists hope to extract DNA to identify the dead. They also hope to reconstruct the face of at least one of the skulls.
Rob Schäfer, a German military historian, is working with Vulcan to learn more about the soldiers, while also contacting the German War Crimes Commission.
He told CNN: “What fascinates me the most is that if you look at 19th-century art, where conflicts are depicted, it’s all very interesting and abstract. To a casual observer. You might get the impression that it wasn’t that bad, but this particular skull with massive facial trauma shows for the first time just how violent the age actually was.
Schaeffer told CNN there was a 20%-30% chance of extracting DNA from the remains.
He said: “It’s a long shot but if we succeed, the next goal is to load the DNA onto the database so people can come forward if they know they’re related.”
After encountering Bones in the attic, Vulcan had another surprise.
“When I was visiting, the man told me, ‘By the way, I have another friend who probably has four British soldiers that he has (metal-detected) by the lion’s mound (on the battlefield). discovered during,’ he said.
“I was shocked, it was getting really crazy.”
The bones were later examined by archaeologist Dominique Bousquet of the Walloon Heritage Agency, Vulcan told CNN. They have since been moved to Brussels, where Bousquet and a team from the Natural History Museum and the University of Brussels are studying them.
These discoveries lead Vulcan and his colleagues to suspect that more people living near the battlefield may have skeletons in their closets.
“It’s very clear that we need to talk to the people who have lived there for generations,” he said, adding: “We absolutely believe that the Belgian authorities need to return more bones.”