A story of bullets and bones revealed at Waterloo archaeology dig

Issued: Wed, 17 Jul 2019 14:00:00 BST

 Dig led by UofG's @ProfTonyPollard finds human remains at site of the Battle of Waterloo. Prof Pollard and co-founder of @DigWaterloo Mark Evans explains how academics and military personnel have joined forces to investigate the #archaeology of Waterloo  pic.twitter.com/JqlSI5J8a8

Human remains and evidence of a previous unknown fight between French cavalry and the British Allied troops have been found at the site of the Battle of Waterloo.

A team made up of 25 veterans and serving soldiers from the charity Waterloo Uncovered along with British and Dutch archaeologists have been taking part in the first dig at the Mont-Saint-Jean farm buildings. Mont-Saint-Jean was used as a field hospital during the 1815 battle.

The discovery of four amputated legs was described as “significant” find by the University of Glasgow’s Professor Tony Pollard, who has been leading the dig. Finding humans remains at Waterloo is very rare.

The team also discovered a significant number of musket balls and a 6-pound cast iron French cannon ball.

Professor Pollard, who is the director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the university, said it represented evidence of a previously unknown action at the doors of the Mont St Jean Field Hospital.

“This indicates that there had been a fight here – these aren’t musket balls that have just landed here from some distance away, there had been a fierce fight very close to the farm.”

The team believe it relates to the point in the battle at which Napoleon almost won a victory.

Up to 6000 wounded men may have passed through the farm and its outbuildings during and after the battle, where they received primitive medical care for their injuries.

Operations were carried out without anaesthetic, including hundreds of amputations, the only remedy for smashed limbs.
Professor Pollard said: “These (bones) appear to be the remains of amputated limbs from some of the operations carried out by surgeons.

“One limb shows evidence of trauma from a catastrophic wound, another appears to bear the marks of thesurgeon’s saw from an amputation above the knee.

“Finding human remains immediately changes the atmosphere on a dig. Suddenly there is a very poignant connection withthe people who suffered here in 1815, a connection that has not been lost on the Waterloo Uncovered team of veteransand serving personnel.

“The next stage is to carefully excavate and remove the bones for further examination.”
Waterloo Uncovered is a UK charity that combines an archaeology project on the battlefield of Waterloo with a support programme for veterans and the military community.

Working with some of Europe’s top universities, the charity says it aims to understand war and its impact on people and to educate the public about it.