Fighting to the Death: Weapon Injuries in a Mass Grave (16th-17th century) from Bucharest, Romania

Archaeological excavations carried out between 2010-2011 in the University Square, Bucharest, Romania, brought to light 676 graves belonging to the Saint Sava church cemetery dated between the middle of the 16th century and middle of the 19th century. At 35 meters from the western boundary of the cemetery a mass grave (dated by radiocarbon data from 1572 to 1630 AD) containing three adult male skeletons was unearthed and the unusual position of the skeletons and the high incidence of traumatic injuries on the bones pose several questions concerning the historical and archaeological context. All three individuals exhibited a series of occupational stress markers associated with moderate physical activity during life. The majority of these markers are visible in all three sets of remains, indicating similar activities. A total number of 24 perimortem lesions were recorded from the skeletons. From those, eight lesions are penetrating and all were produced by sharp objects: five affected the skull and three the cervical vertebrae. Furthermore, the comparison of the cut marks from the bones with different weapons from the Bucharest Military Museum collection resulted in two matches: a type of saber with a straight blade and one with a curved blade. The high percentage of cranial injuries may indicate the intention to incapacitate quickly the victims because the head was main target.

The anthropological analysis showed that the antemortem injuries, occupational stress markers, stature, and skeletal indices of the three men are specific to prolonged physical activities. The pattern of perimortem injuries (caused mainly by sabers, but also by blunt objects and projectiles) is different from those connected to executions in the period.

Authors:M. Constantinescu, E. Gavrila, S. Greer, A. Soficaru, D. Ungureanu
Publication:International Journal of Osteoarchaeology
Published: 2014
Developed by NETVision System