Mass grave of 80 British soldiers who died fighting French revolutionaries 220 years ago is discovered in the moat of a Dutch castle
- Mass grave discovered in disused moat of Dutch castle contains remains of 81 British soldiers, researchers say
- Men between the ages of 15 and 30 died fighting the French revolutionaries during the War of the First Coalition, 1792-1797
- Archaeologists first thought the tomb marked the site of a medieval battle due to blade marks on the remains
- But they now say the marks were made by surgical saws and the site was actually a British field hospital
More than 80 skeletons found in a mass grave in the Dutch town of Vianen have been identified as British soldiers aged between 15 and 30 who died fighting French revolutionaries during the War of the First Coalition.
The grave was first discovered by city workers digging a ditch that once surrounded Batestein Castle on the outskirts of Utrecht on November 20 last year.
The site was previously thought to be some kind of battlefield and the 81 skeletons could have dated back to medieval times.
However, new research has shown that the remains actually belong to British soldiers who died in action in the War of the First Coalition between 1792 and 1797, and the site is more likely to have been a field hospital.
A mass grave containing the remains of 81 men aged between 15 and 30 has been revealed as the site of a British field hospital which was used during the War of the First Coalition, which lasted from 1792 to 1797.
The site was discovered by town workers digging the disused moat of the now-destroyed Batestein Castle, and was initially thought to mark the site of a medieval battle.
But researchers found that the skeletons’ teeth were marked with tobacco, a substance that wasn’t widely available to Europeans until the 1690s, meaning the tomb couldn’t be older than that.
Marks on the bones that researchers initially thought were caused by saws or spears actually turned out to have been made using surgical saws, and they now believe the site was actually a British field hospital.
Crews working at the site now believe the remains are of British soldiers who died fighting French revolutionaries during the War of the First Coalition, a precursor to the Napoleonic Wars.
It was previously believed that the marks found on many bones at the site were the result of violent clashes – possibly wounds from swords or spears.
Now researchers say the marks were made by medical saws and were actually the result of medical procedures such as amputations and autopsies performed on recently deceased people.
However, it is now known that in many cases these were saw marks, resulting from medical procedures such as autopsies and amputations.
The team working on the project concluded that the site was a field hospital.
Project manager Anne-Floor van Pelt said: ‘So the site was not the battlefield itself, but a more remote location where the casualties of the melee were received and cared for.
“It wouldn’t have been a nice place. We believe that many soldiers here died from their wounds, but also from all kinds of hardships such as hunger, disease and frostbite.
Researchers believe that those who died at the site are more likely to have died of wounds they received in battle, but some may also have died of frostbite, disease and starvation.
The War of the First Coalition was a series of conflicts fought against the constitutional kingdom of France and later the French Republic against various European powers, including the British, who were trying to force the revolution to collapse.
The site was first discovered in November last year when it was thought it could date back to medieval times, but researchers now believe it is around 220 years old.
British troops were involved in the fight against French revolutionaries on Dutch soil as France’s borders shifted amid competing power grabs after the country’s revolution
Dutch researchers are now working alongside their British counterparts to excavate and preserve the remains of the dead
The remains are believed to belong to English soldiers fighting the French on Dutch territory.
UK authorities have been notified of the discovery and will be working with researchers on the project in hopes of revealing more details.
According to Van Pelt, the breakthrough came when marks were found on the victims’ teeth.
She said: “They showed the men smoking pipes. Pipe tobacco did not appear in the Netherlands until around 1600.
“Tobacco was an expensive stimulant, so initially only the wealthy smoked pipes. It only became common among the population from 1690. For this reason, the tomb cannot be older.
A search of digitized newspaper archives revealed that the establishment of a field hospital was discussed in the “Amsterdamse Courant” of December 28, 1794.
British Ambassador to the Netherlands Joanna Roper wrote on Twitter: “An extraordinary find – the remains of 18th century soldiers on Dutch soil”. Glad to see (the UK) and (the Netherlands) working together to identify and preserve them with dignity and respect.