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One-Legged Skeleton Might Solve Napoleonic Mystery

It could be the remains of Gen. Charles-Étienne Gudin, missing since 1812
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 29, 2019 12:53 PM CDT
A painting and a bust of Napoleon Bonaparte are on display at the newly renovated Napoleonic Museum in Havana, Cuba, Monday March 28, 2011.   (AP Photo/Javier Galeano)

(Newser) – A one-legged skeleton found under a Russian dance floor could solve a mystery that has persisted since 1812. Charles-Étienne Gudin, whom the BBC refers to as Napoleon Bonaparte's "favorite general," was hit by a cannonball during the failed French invasion of Russia that year; he had his leg amputated, but died three days later from gangrene. His heart was removed by the French army and returned to Paris to be buried, but no one knew where his skeleton lay—until, possibly, now. "As soon as I saw the skeleton with just one leg, I knew that we had our man," the head of the Russian and French archaeological team that found the remains, buried in a wooden coffin in Smolensk, tells AFP. DNA testing is being done to confirm the identification; a Gudin descendant says the family hopes he can eventually be buried alongside Napoleon.

The archaeologists say the skeleton had injuries consistent with those Gudin suffered, and preliminary results indicate the remains were those of a man between the ages of 40 and 45 when he died. Gudin, a veteran of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars whose name is inscribed on Paris' Arc de Triomphe, was 44. The size of the body is also a match. The team started looking for Gudin's remains in May, using the memoirs of another Napoleonic-era French general to narrow down the location before using the account of another witness to find the actual coffin, buried in a park underneath a building foundation. "For this to be validated 100%, it must be done in France, not Russia," said the project leader, who added that he has asked the Marseille Forensic Institute to repatriate the body and perform DNA tests. (Read more Napoleon stories.)

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