In the US state of New Jersey, archaeologists from Rowan University came across a mass grave of German soldiers during excavations near the city of Philadelphia.
As the university reports, the skeletonized remains of 13 people so far have been uncovered in Red Bank Battlefield Park. The researchers suspect that the dead are Hessian soldiers who are said to have fought on the side of the British in the American War of Independence.
On the day of the historic find, the excavation team, led by historian Jennifer Janofsky, actually wanted to call it a day, as the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” reports. But suddenly one of the volunteers found a human femur.
Professor Janofsky remembers: “I will never forget this moment. He was incredible. He was amazing. He was sad.”
Excavations are currently taking place at Battlefield Park, where the Battle of Red Bank took place in 1777. According to Janofsky, it was here that the greatest controversial victory of the American Revolution was decided.
At that time there was a long ditch on today’s excavation area, which included Fort Mercer. It was a military installation from the American Revolutionary War, which was about 290 long and 46 meters wide.
The human remains lay underground for 245 years – at a depth of only 1.3 meters. According to the head of the excavation, the fact that the suspected Hessian soldiers were found in a mass grave is a rarity and rather atypical for battlefields from the Revolutionary War. “Finding remains on a battlefield is incredibly unusual,” says the historian.
In addition to the human remains of the Hessian soldiers, other everyday items were found on the battlefield, including tin and brass buttons.
In addition, typical war paraphernalia such as musket balls, shotgun pellets, ammunition canisters and a uniform buckle were uncovered, on which the scientists were later able to identify clothing fibers and human blood.
Highlights include finding a gold guinea belonging to King George III. At that time, the value of this coin roughly corresponded to the monthly salary of a soldier.
The coin was laid bare just as a few visitors were on site touring the excavation site. Excavation director Janofsky recalls: “The spectators were just here when the coin appeared on one of the screens”. The professor could still remember the screams and the excitement. Finally, “to see the coin for myself, to hold it in my hand. It was an incredible moment.”
The Battle of Fort Mercer took place in October 1777. The 2,000-strong British force consisted primarily of soldiers from a Hessian-Kassel troop that went to the battlefield under the leadership of commander Karl Emil von Donop.
Fort Mercer was considered an important defensive point for the Americans. When the British troops marched up, around 400 soldiers were in the fortress. Despite their numerical inferiority, the defenders were able to hold the position and win the battle on October 22, 1777. While around 377 people died on the British-Hessian side, the Americans only counted 14 war victims.
According to the Rowan University report, when excavation director Janofsky looks out over the 44-hectare battlefield 245 years later, she constantly thinks of the people who lost their lives in that battle. According to initial assumptions by the scientists, a young man between the ages of 17 and 19 was found among the human remains of the soldiers.
As soon as the DNA tests on the human remains have been completed, the dead will be buried elsewhere.