Mass Grave Found in the Netherlands: A Case of Medieval Slaughter?
In the Netherlands, construction workers have made a gruesome discovery. When working in the city of Vianen, they came across an enigmatic mass burial. They have unearthed up to 20 skeletons that could date back to the Middle Ages. Amazingly, it is likely that more skeletons could be found at the mass grave site.
Workers were excavating Vianen’s historic moat when they made the startling discovery. They were excavating a filled-in section that will be re-joined to the rest of the city’s canal, and while working outside the grounds of Batestein Castle, they came across the skeletons. This castle was built in the 1370s by Gijsbrecht van Beusichem, when Vianen was largely a self-governing city-state.
Batestein Castle. ( Public Domain )
A number of important aristocratic families also lived at Batestein Castle, which was abandoned in the 18th century after a fire caused by fireworks. According to the Daily Mail , ‘the Hof or Bosch Gate, and some connecting wall parts,’ are all that remains of what was once one of the most impressive castles in the Netherlands .
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The Newly Discovered Mass Grave in the Netherlands is a Mystery
Initially, nine skeletons were recovered, but later investigations revealed several others. In total some 20 skeletons of males were recovered. All of them are believed to have died between the ages of 15 and 30.
Tellereport quotes a local representative, Alderman Christa Hendriksen, as saying that she was “surprised by the find.” This find is most unusual because of the positioning of the bones. Tellereport quotes the Alderman as saying that “some of the skeletons are stacked.”
Some of the skeletons were found stacked on top of each other. ( RTV Utrecht )
No textiles or objects such as jewelry were found in the mass grave and this is also unusual. Many nails were unearthed, and they probably indicate that the bones had been placed in a wooden box that long ago disintegrated in the earth. Hendriksen told NU News that “The skeletons date from the late Middle Ages to several hundred years ago.” Further investigations should be able to narrow down the date of the remains.
Are They Plague or War Victims?
The identity of the remains is also something of a mystery because of the lack of evidence found with them. However, the history of the castle may provide some help in solving this mystery. The castle dates to the 14th century, when Europe was regularly ravaged by the Bubonic Plague or ‘Black Death.’ The dead could have been victims of the plague. It was common for plague victims to be buried in hastily dug pits.
‘The Triumph of Death’ (1562) by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. ( Public Domain )
Alternatively, the remains may be related to the Netherland’s War of Independence . In 1566 the Dutch revolted against the Spanish, whom they saw as foreign oppressors. The Daily Mail reports that ‘In 1567, the surrounding town and castle was overrun by the Spanish Army .’ The skeletons may be related to the fighting or some later battle. For more than 80 years the Netherlands was intermittently the scene of heavy fighting and prolonged sieges.
Maybe it’s Evidence of Mass Murder
However, the fact that there were no objects found with the dead, not even buttons, and that the deceased were not buried on consecrated ground in a church may indicate something sinister. The bones and their context are ‘pointing to the idea that this may have been a mass murder ,’ reports the Daily Mail . The dead may have been massacred, possibly during the lawless and brutal Middle Ages.
One of the skeletons found in the mass grave in Vianen, the Netherlands. ( De Steekproef )
No one really knows what led to the burial of 20 men in the mass grave in the Netherlands. The bones have been removed and have been taken away for further examination. There are likely more skeletons to be found at the site. The Daily Mail quotes Alderman Hendriksen as saying that “There is no doubt that there is more. The size is not yet known.” The construction project has been suspended and archaeologists have expanded the area of investigation.
Top image: Remains found in the mass grave in Vianen, the Netherlands. Source: RTV Utrecht
By Ed Whelan