“Forgotten” World War I Cemetery Located in France

Archaeologists in France have re-discovered a “forgotten” World War I cemetery containing hundreds of fallen soldiers, some of whom may be identifiable almost a century after their deaths.

INRAP (Institut national de recherches archéologiques préventives) archaeologists began working on a site in Spincourt, 300 kilometers east of Paris, on Nov. 6 after the parcel of land had been sold and construction of a new subdivision was set to commence.

“L’Est Républicain,” a French newspaper, reports that archaeologists first came to the site early in 2017 and suspected the site to contain protohistoric artifacts but soon discovered wooden containers filled with bones and remnants of French uniforms from World War I.

“[T]o date about 400 graves have been located and are being searched,” writes MeuseFM, a French radio station, on their Facebook page. One mass grave contained eight solders from America, Russia, and Italy. These soldiers’ remains were identified using the cemetery’s register. Records from the time period report that this holding cemetery originally held 864 bodies in 617 burials, L’Est Républicain reports.

Since Nov. 6, 200 soldiers have been exhumed from their graves and archaeologists hope to identify them and possibly return them to their families or re-bury them at existing World War I cemeteries, MuseFM reports.

L’Est Républicain reports that the Spincourt site was a “holding cemetery,” a place to bury soldiers after they had been recovered from the battlefields of the Western Front. The soldiers were then to be re-exhumed and re-buried at other military cemeteries or returned to the families of the deceased. All of the bodies in this cemetery were supposed to have been moved by 1924, and the cemetery land was re-used for agriculture until 2017.

Archaeologists will continue working on the site until Dec. 14, L’Est Républicain says.