Archaeologists digging at a site where the 1815 Battle of Waterloo was fought have turned up human remains and musket balls, they say, which may help paint a clearer picture of what went down in what was to be the French military leader’s final stand.
The remains were found during the first excavation of the primary Allied field hospital at Mont-Saint-Jean in Belgium, and experts believe that the bones were from amputated limbs.
“Finding human remains immediately changes the atmosphere on a dig,” said Tony Pollard, who is the Professor of Conflict History and Archeology and Director of the Centre for Battlefield Archeology at the University of Glasgow.
“Suddenly there is a very poignant connection with the people who suffered here in 1815, a connection that has not been lost on the Waterloo Uncovered team of veterans and serving personnel,” he said.
There were an estimated 500 limb amputations at the Mont-Saint-Jean field hospital during the famous battle, with approximately 6,000 Allied soldiers and their French prisoners being treated there. Limb injuries made up 65 percent of the injuries sustained during the battle.
Possible evidence of “trauma caused by a catastrophic wound” was seen on one of the limbs, and another of the limbs has marks that would be consistent with a “surgeon’s amputation saw above the knee.”
Amputations would have occurred on the battlefield without the use of anesthetics.
A fight at the hospital
The team also discovered musket balls that were fired near the doors to the hospital, which would indicate a fight took place there that was previously unrecorded.
The discovery of a six pound French cannonball in the area also suggests that Napoleon was able to bring the French artillery close enough to the front lines late in the day of battle to punish the Allied forces. However, Napoleon didn’t have enough infantry to capitalize on their advantageous position, and the Prussians would arrive on the left flank to help turn the tide of battle.
This may have been the turning point in the battle, and it was also the closest Napoleon came to achieving victory. Had the French army succeeded here, history may have turned out differently.
About the dig
Waterloo Uncovered, a UK charity that has been charged with excavating the battlefield, said this is the first time that they have encountered human remains.
The Waterloo Uncovered team is comprised of archaeologists, veterans and serving soldiers. Their mission is “to understand war and its impact on people — and to educate the public about it.”