Forensic entomology and the archaeology of war

Stefano Vanin, Margherita Turchetto, Andrea Galassi, Cristina Cattaneo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


In the Pre-Alps and Alps of north-eastern Italy, where the First World War was fought, the discovery of human remains is not a rare event. In the past year, the skeleton of an Italian soldier was found at an altitude of 1000 m. The skeleton was almost complete, with the skull in the helmet. As in the majority of these discoveries, the absence of metallic identity tags and of personal effects makes it virtually impossible to identify the soldier. The integration between historical, anthropologic, military, entomological and genetic data could, however, be useful for dating and for identification. The results of the skeletal analysis indicated a man aged between 16 to 19 years old, and short of stature. Death was caused by shrapnel from a shell, which penetrated the head and the helmet. Several puparia and cuticle fragments were collected from the ammunition pouches and identified as Phormia regina, Protophormia terranovae and Fannia cannicularis. The phenology of the species collected suggests that colonisation most probably began during early summer. Discovery of insects associated with the remains of soldiers from WWI and WWII can provide a means to determine the season of death. Additionally, insect evidence can be used to determine if the body was exposed for a period of time following death or immediately hidden or buried. These facts are critical in narrowing down the list of potential individuals who may be finally identified and their remains, one day, buried under a gravestone with their name.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-139
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Conflict Archaeology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


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