The grisly discovery of a mass grave containing 60 skeletons in the central city of Kassel this month made nationwide headlines in Germany. An examination found that they weren't victims of a World War II massacre. They're more likely to have died in a typhoid epidemic in the time of Napoleon.
A local historian in the German city of Kassel may have solved the mystery of a mass grave unearthed by construction workers earlier this month. It contains around 60 skeletons, neatly arranged with their arms folded across their chests, and when it was first found the initial speculation was that they may be forced laborers from World War II.
But a forensic expert at the University of Giessen who examined the skeletons and especially their teeth concluded that they dated back to a time well before the 1940s.
"None of the teeth showed traces of dentistry. This, said Dr Marcel Verhoff, was a strong indication that the people lived in an era well before World War II," the Kassel police and state prosecutor's office said in a joint statement.
The prosecutor's office has closed its investigation as a result of the forensic expert's conclusion.
Local Kassel historian Christian Presche said the skeletons may be the victims of a typhoid epidemic. On his Web site he cites a local Kassel newspaper article from 1866 about the outbreak in 1814 during the Napoleonic wars when large numbers of troops passed through the city.
The military hospital could not cope with the number of sick and a barracks was converted to a hospital ward. "There is no other building in Kassel from which so many souls departed to the afterlife," the 1866 article said.
"The scale of the dying was so great that to avoid having to carry the dead down the stairs, a slide was attached leading down to the courtyard, on the northeastern side, on which the corpses were transferred to a cart, without any clothing whatsoever, and then on to their resting place."
That resting place could be where the corpses were found on Jan. 16, between the university in Kassel and a petrol station.
The neat arrangement of many of the dead suggests they weren't just tossed into a pit. The skeletons also show no outward signs of injury, suggesting they didn't meet with a violent death.
"The investigating authorities rule out a violent crime that would require prosecution," the police statement said.
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