Discovery on the battlefield of Waterloo


Sunday 18 June 1815 was like Napoleon's swansong. A European coalition army composed of English, Prussian and Dutch troops crushed the deposed emperor at Mont-Saint-Jean, some 10 km south of Brussels as the crow flies. An estimated 20,000 people died in what became known as the legendary Battle of Waterloo. An intact skeleton has just been unearthed.

This is not the first time that archaeological excavations have taken place at the site of the bloody battle. What is rare, however, is what was discovered this summer in the orchard adjacent to the former Mont-Saint-Jean farm, now the Brasserie de Waterloo, in the hamlet of the same name in Walloon Brabant. At least for a Napoleonic battlefield. It was an intact skeleton, probably that of an English soldier, between the remains of at least three horses or mules and some metal ammunition boxes. The remains of amputated limbs had already been discovered in 2019.

The site housed the largest English field hospital of the time. According to witnesses, all the human and animal remains were dumped in nearby ditches and covered with a thin layer of soil to prevent the spread of disease. So why have no traces of it been found earlier? Records from the time indicate that the bones of the dead were removed from mass graves shortly after the battle and ground into bone meal, which was then sold in England as fertiliser for the fields.

Waterloo still manages to surprise us.