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Napoleonic Update Volume 56 Number 2, March/April 2003
by Bernadette Arnaud

Forensic pathologists have confirmed that remains of women were among the skeletons of thousands of Napoleonic troops discovered in a pit in Vilnius, Lithuania, last spring ("Digging Napoleon's Dead," September/October 2002). Researchers from the University of Marseilles have identified the remains of about twenty women, who may have accompanied the troops as laundresses, canteen keepers, or, possibly, prostitutes. "In fact, we have discovered a few cases of syphilis among the soldiers," says anthropologist Olivier Dutour. "But what particularly struck us was the robustness of these men. They were for the most part in their early to mid twenties, very big and sturdy, with perfect teeth. A very select population."

Documents recently discovered in the Russian military archives have enabled researchers to identify the Vilnius victims as members of two flanks of protective artillery that covered the road used by the Grand Army in its retreat from Russia in 1812. An official reburial of these bodies will take place in Vilnius' military cemetery.

© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America