Scientists Test Remains Kept in Attic for Battle of Waterloo Ties

Man turns bones over to Belgian archives
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 26, 2023 6:53 PM CST
Scientists Test Remains Kept in Attic for Battle of Waterloo Ties
Reenactors reconstruct "The Allied Counterattack" as part of the commemoration of the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo in Braine-l'Alleud, near Waterloo, Belgium, on June 20, 2015.   (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

After Bernard Wilkin, of the State Archives of Belgium, spoke in the village of Waterloo in November about what became of the remains of troops killed in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, a man approached him. "Dr. Wilkin," he said, "I have bones of these Prussians in my attic." The man, who lives near the battlefield in Plancenoit, where Napoleon's forces were defeated by Prussians, showed Wilkin photos of bones and invited him to come to his house to examine them. Although the Battle of Waterloo is thought to have killed more than 10,000 men, the remains of few troops were recovered. The remains of at least four more soldiers, CNN reports, might have been in this man's attic.

The man, who asked not to be identified, said a friend who had found the remains gave them to him in the 1980s for a "small private museum" he operated. The man said he decided he couldn't ethically display the bones, so he stored them in his attic. He lives alone, and Wilkin said "he suddenly decided he was old and could pass away in the next years, and he was afraid of what would happen to the bones." He decided to contact Wilkin after reading about research he'd done, figuring, "this guy knows about bones and the Napoleonic wars and he works for the government," Wilkin said.

The research involved how bones were used in sugar purification. That's what happened to many of them; farmers later dug up the remains of the war dead and sold them to the sugar industry for use in the industrial process, per CNN. Buttons and other items found near the remains suggest the troops were Prussian. "One of the skulls is deeply damaged by a sword or a bayonet," Wilkins said, "so it was a very brutal way of dying." Forensics tests are being conducted on the remains, and scientists hope to extract DNA that will help them identify the soldiers. At some point after the analysis, the man who turned over the remains asked that Wilkin "bury them in a dignified way." (More Belgium stories.)

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