Experts analyze a mass grave to reveal secrets of the Thirty Years' War

Experts analyze a mass grave to reveal secrets of the Thirty Years' War

The Battle of Lützen (Germany) took place on November 16, 1632. It was a cloudy day, so it wasn't until noon that the Protestant army of Swedish King Gustav Adolf II attacked the Imperial Roman Catholic army of Albrecht von Wallenstein. The slaughter lasted several hours, in which the only valid rule was that of survival. About 20,000 men fought on each side and about 9,000 perished. The historian and director of the Lützen Museum, Maik Reichel explains that it was better to stab your opponent "one more time to make sure he wouldn't get up again”.

The area in which the combat occurred only has been partially analyzed. It is estimated that only a third have been explored and that only another third will be able to investigate, since the rest is currently covered by a hospital, a supermarket and a small park. Even so, archaeologists have managed to recover thousands of objects from the battle. The biggest find has been the recently found mass grave where the victims of the brutal battle were buried. Experts estimate it to be one in dozen, probably hundreds, from similar graves.

The bloody battle in Lützen It is not known for its military significance, as there was actually no clear winner. Instead, is famous for the death of the swedish king. But archaeologists are especially interested in 175 soldiers who are buried in this mass grave.

In order to analyze the remains in greater detail, a 55-ton piece of earth has been excavated for analysis in a laboratory in the city of Find. For logistical reasons, the block has been divided into two parts and covered by a layer of wood to guarantee its structural integrity. Each one is filled with bones that are now being examined in the laboratory of the Saxony-Anhalt State Office for Heritage Administration and Archeology.

For now, the removal of remains it is being quite fruitful. They have recovered 20 bodies in the first block. Forensics attempts to catalog them in order to determine exactly who owns each of the arms, legs, shoulders, pelvis and skulls they find.

Investigations have begun to reveal some facts. For example, the corpses were buried naked, presumably after they had been looted and were gathered in a grave, gathered in two rows with their legs facing each other. Further, the dead were stacked in different layers and the burials were carried out not by the surviving soldiers, but by the good citizens of Lützen, who appealed to the 200 soldiers stationed in the nearby Weissenfels garrison for help.

Although it is known that participants in the contest they came from Austria, Germany, Sweden, England, Croatia and Scotland, very little is known about who they were. Experts wonder if they were upper class, if they were poor, if they fought for money and what their lives were like. The only thing they have determined so far is that their deaths were caused by carabiners, pistols, swords, knives and halberds.

Scientists who are working in the laboratory of the city of Halle they try to answer these kinds of questions. The analysis will reveal a lot of results. Most of them will be quite comprehensive and very accurate. In fact, they are starting to pay off. For example, examination of the bones reveals how some soldiers perished. But all this is only about the first approximations, that is, they are still at a very early stage.

The key analysis will be that of a strontium isotope, which will reveal the origin of the soldiers. It is most likely led by researchers from the University of Bristol. These British specialists have previously assisted their German colleagues in the opening of Queen Edith's tomb in Magdeburg in 2009. The procedure is as follows: people in different parts of the world are exposed to certain chemical characteristics of the metal strontium.

Due to different isotopes of the element that are integrated into the human body, you can examine the characteristic marks that they leave depending on the area. With a little luck, scientists can examine the bones to reconstruct where soldiers traveled before their death. In addition, an examination of the teeth will reveal information about the childhood that the deceased may have.

In order to give a complete and reliable overview, the study will be carried out jointly by anthropologists, chemists, historians and land and weapons experts in the next few months. The spokesman for the Saxony-Anhalt State Office for Heritage Administration and Archeology, Alfred Reichenberger says that they always work “with other disciplines, since old school archeology is out of fashion”.

In general, scientists estimate that it will be a job that lasts a long time but that, when the time comes, they will be able to make an exhibition that the public can visit. At least, this is the opinion of Reichel, who intends to give a more important use to the remains: “The center will tell the horrors of war and serve as a warning for today's generation. History does not repeat itself, but has the same habits ”.

The discovery in Lützen It is not the first mass grave to appear in Germany. Researchers know of more burial sites across Germany that date back to Thirty Years War. Some were found in 1985 during the construction of a house in Höchstadt, in central Franconia. Others in 2007, when carrying out a work in Wittstock, in Brandenburg in 2007. The most recent are those discovered in 2008 by canal engineers in Alerheim in the south-west of Germany. The tomb in Wittstock has recently been exposed to the public in the Brandenburg Archaeological Museum.


Passionate about History, he has a degree in Journalism and Audiovisual Communication. Since he was a child he loved history and ended up exploring the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries above all.

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