Soldiers’ bones from the Battle of Waterloo may have disappeared like sacks of fertilizer

Soldiers’ bones from the Battle of Waterloo may have disappeared like sacks of fertilizer

Soldiers’ bones from the Battle of Waterloo may have disappeared like sacks of fertilizer

Soldiers’ bones from the Battle of Waterloo may have disappeared like sacks of fertilizer

Mass graves may have been an important source of bone meal dung. Image Credit: Jan Willem Pieneman La bataille de Waterloo (1824, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) de Jan Willem Pieneman (1779-1853)

The bloody Battle of Waterloo is said to have claimed the lives of thousands, but few human remains have been found at the site since Napoleon’s defeat. Where did they go? It is quite possible that they were ground for fertilizer.

“European battlefields may have provided a handy source of bone that can be ground into bone meal, an effective form of manure,” Professor Pollard of the University of Glasgow’s Center for War Studies and Conflict Archeology said in a statement.

“At least three newspaper articles from the 1820s refer to the importation of human bones from European battlefields for the purpose of producing fertilizer.”

According to Pollard, after the battle on June 18, 1815, Waterloo became something of a tourist trap, as some stared at the devastation while others stripped the dead of anything of value. Often human teeth were taken and made into dentures, but the other bones had a different market value.

The authors of a new paper published in the Journal of Conflict Archeology say that based on the picture painted by recent archaeological research, it appears that large tombs may have presented a lucrative opportunity for retrieving human bones, which likely serve as an important resource. source of phosphate fertilizer.

Historical documents, including letters, guidebooks and travelogues, describe the exact locations of at least three mass graves that are said to contain about 13,000 corpses, but Pollard believes locating them will yield few human remains. Those same documents, he says, may have functioned as treasure maps for bone grinders shipping their product to the British Isles.

“It’s likely that an agent from a bone supplier would arrive on the battlefield with high hopes to receive their prize,” Pollard said. “Primary targets would be mass graves, as they would have enough bodies in them to merit the effort of digging the bones.”

“Local people could have pointed these officers to the locations of the mass graves, as many of them would have vivid memories of the burials that took place, or may have even helped dig them up.”

The findings come exactly 207 years after the end of the Battle of Waterloo, but the mystery isn’t quite sure yet. Pollard hopes to lead an “ambitious” geophysical survey in the coming years, which will use the help of veterans to locate the graves and see what they find.

“The next stage is to go back to Waterloo, to try to map out grave sites that are the result of the analysis of early visitor accounts reported here,” he said.

“If human remains have been removed on the proposed scale, then there should be, at least in some cases, archaeological evidence of the pits from which they were extracted, however truncated and ill-defined they may be.

“In order to cover large areas of the battlefield in the coming years, we will look for areas of previous ground disturbance to test the results of the source assessment and distribution map, and combined with further documentary research and some excavations we will provide a much more definitive picture of the fate of the dead of Waterloo.”