Dan Snow's History Hit

What happened to the bones of the Waterloo battlefield?

Listen on

Episode notes

In June 1815 the French army under the command of Napoleon was decisively beaten by an allied army led by Britain and Prussia at Waterloo in what is now Belgium. This titanic clash took a terrible toll on both men and animals. An estimated 20,000 men lost their lives that bloody day. As archaeologists have attempted to unpick the events of Waterloo a mystery has emerged. What has happened to the remains of the soldiers who fought there?

Very few human or animal remains have been found on the site of the battle. However, an international team of archaeologists and historians have joined forces in a bid to solve this enduring puzzle. A new discovery this summer has found some astonishing evidence to now say why that is. It seems enterprising profiteers likely plundered the site for illegal bone trading, predominantly for the European sugar industry.

Joining Dan on the podcast is Professor Tony Pollard archaeological director of Waterloo Uncovered, historian and scholar Rob Schaefer and Bernard Wilkin Senior Researcher at the Belgian State Archive. They discuss their theory about the fate of the Waterloo remains and why so few have survived.

The paper Tony recently published on graves at Waterloo is available to all as a free open access download - These spots of excavation tell: using early visitor accounts to map the missing graves of waterloo.

Warning: this episode contains frank discussion of dead bodies, animal carcasses, mass graves and amputations.

This episode was produced by Mariana Des Forges, the audio editor was Dougal Patmore.

If you'd like to learn more, we have hundreds of history documentaries, ad-free podcasts and audiobooks at History Hit - subscribe to History Hit today!

To download the History Hit app please go to the Android or Apple store.

Our GDPR privacy policy was updated on August 8, 2022. Visit acast.com/privacy for more information.