Excavation and Study of Skeletal Remains from a World War I Mass Grave

D. Gaudio, A. Betto, S. Vanin, A. De Guio, A. Galassi, C. Cattaneo

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21 Citations (Scopus)


This study presents the excavation and multidisciplinary analysis of seven skeletons recovered in a World War I Mass Grave on the mountains of the Veneto Region, Italy. While it is not a rare phenomenon to these mountainous areas involved in the First Conflict, it is exceptional, on these mountains, to find a mass grave with soldiers in primary burials. Stratigraphic excavation was the mean used for recovery, along with 3D laser scanning documentation. Every skeleton but one was found complete and in anatomical connection. Four soldiers lay in the prone position; two subjects were lying on their side. Identification of the nationality was performed for two of the subjects, who both of whom had personal effects such as a badge for military vaccinations and religious medals. What remained of their uniforms gave clues about their Italian nationality. The entomological analysis conducted on fly puparia discovered close to the bones revealed that the bodies had not been buried immediately. The skeletons were biologically profiled by sex, age, height and ancestry. An accurate study of pathology and stress markers was carried on, as well as on skeletal trauma in order to establish the type of trauma and ammunition involved. The remains belonged altogether to seven Italian male soldiers ages between 18 and 35. Various kinds of stress markers revealed occupational (enthesopathies) and metabolic stress: several signs of cribra cranii and of cribra orbitalia were registered. The study of the injuries revealed a surprising variety of types of lesions, mostly lethal: a few subjects were struck by a shrapnel grenade; one soldier was killed by a grenade explosion. Two of the soldiers were probably executed, instead: this conclusion reached on the basis of gunshot holes (9 mm) in their skulls, and by the position of the injuries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)585-592
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Osteoarchaeology
Issue number5
Early online date8 Aug 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2015


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