A mass grave from the Thirty Years' War has been found in Germany that could offer new insights into one of Europe's darkest epochs. The find is only the second mass grave from the 17th century conflict to be found on German soil.
The discovery was made by construction workers, who were laying a pipeline near the small town of Nördlingen in the German state of Bavaria. They stumbled on dozens of skeletons, as well as two French coins, scraps of uniforms and rosaries.
According to the Bavarian State Office for Historical Preservation, which announced the discovery Monday, the skeletons were most likely the remains of around 50 French soldiers, who died in battle with a Bavarian army.
On August 3, 1645, French, Hessian and Weimar troops, under the command of French nobleman Prince Condé, confronted a Bavarian army, led by General Franz Freiherr von Mercy. Around 8,000 men, including Mercy, were killed in the battle.
Among the dead, researchers say, were the French soldiers whose remains were discovered in the mass grave. They were buried just behind the right flank of the French army, which was nearly annihilated by the Bavarian troops.
The find follows a first Thirty Years' War grave discovered last year. In June, workers dug up the graves of over 100 soldiers in a sand pit near the town of Wittstock, close to Berlin. The soldiers, historians and archaeologists concluded, had been killed in the Battle of Wittstock on October 4, 1636, when a Protestant army of 16,000 Swedes beat a Catholic alliance of the Holy Roman Empire and Saxony.
According to the Bavarian researchers, such archaeological finds are fundamental to uncovering information about life up to the early Middle Ages. Most of the information available about that age has come from similar finds. "If there were no finds, we would know nothing about regional history up to" that point, the state office said in a statement. "Only such finds allow us to reconstruct the way of life, the economic structures, the climatic circumstances, the food and illness of people from long-ago epochs."
The Thirty Years' War was fought between 1618 and 1648 -- mainly on what is present day Germany. It started out as a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire, but escalated into a general war that involved most of the major European powers.