Human remains and cannon ball unearthed at Battle of Waterloo hospital site
An excavation of the area around the main allied battlefield hospital site during the Battle of Waterloo has uncovered human remains, dozens of musket balls and a 6lb cannon ball.
Archaeologists have also discovered a number of coins and uniform buttons during the ongoing dig at Mont St Jean in Belgium.
The finds from the excavation – the first time the particular site has been excavated since the 1815 battle – are said to show evidence of a fierce fight having happened very close to the hospital area.
Details of the work have been revealed by the veterans charity Waterloo Uncovered, with the dig led by Professor Tony Pollard of the University of Glasgow.
The team began by conducting a metal detector survey of the orchard at Mont St Jean, which is right next to a farm, seeking evidence that the farm was used as one of the main field hospitals during the battle.
The digging of trenches at the site revealed a concentration of musket balls – allied ones fired by the Brown Bess infantry musket, and the smaller calibre French musket balls.
Prof Pollard, director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the university, said it represented evidence of a previously unknown action at the doors of the Mont St Jean Field Hospital.
“This indicates that there had been a fight here – these aren’t musket balls that have just landed here from some distance away, there had been a fierce fight very close to the farm,” he said.
Up to 6,000 wounded men may have passed through the farm and its outbuildings during and after the battle, where they received primitive medical care for their injuries.
Operations were carried out without anaesthetic, including hundreds of amputations, the only remedy for smashed limbs.
The discovery of human remains from that time in the orchard of Mont St Jean was described as a “significant” find.
Prof Pollard said: “After working with the local authorities to establish that the bones did not relate to a modern burial, work continued and has revealed at least three leg bones.
“These appear to be the remains of amputated limbs from some of the operations carried out by surgeons.
“One limb shows evidence of trauma from a catastrophic wound, another appears to bear the marks of the surgeon’s saw from an amputation above the knee.”
He continued: “Finding human remains immediately changes the atmosphere on a dig.
“Suddenly there is a very poignant connection with the people who suffered here in 1815, a connection that has not been lost on the Waterloo Uncovered team of veterans and serving personnel.”
The next stage will be to excavate and remove the bones for further examination.
The archaeologists have now expanded their survey up the hill beyond the farm.
Earlier this week, they found 58 musket balls in just half a day, forcing them to slow the operation down to allow surveyors to catch up with the finds.
“We’ve also found a number of coins of different periods, and buttons, some of which might relate to the battle,” Prof Pollard explained.
“In addition to the musket shot in the orchard of Mont St Jean, we excavated a very exciting find – a six-pound cast iron French cannon ball.”
Experts believe it relates to the point in the battle at which Napoleon almost won a victory.
Waterloo Uncovered is a UK charity that combines an archaeology project on the battlefield of Waterloo with a support programme for veterans and the military community.
Working with some of Europe’s top universities, the charity says it aims to understand war and its impact on people and to educate the public about it.