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Stable Isotope Evidence for the Geographic Origins and Military Movement of Napoleonic Soldiers during the March from Moscow in 1812

Author(s): Serenela Pelier ; Tosha Dupras ; Rimantas Jankauskas

Year: 2016

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Summary

In 2001, 3269 unidentified individuals were recovered from a mass grave in Vilnius, Lithuania. Archaeological context indicates that these individuals were likely soldiers that were a part of Napoleon’s Grand Army. Geographical origins of 9 individuals from the mass grave were assessed utilizing stable oxygen isotope (δ18O) values that were extracted from femoral bone apatite. The carbonate oxygen isotope (δ18OVSMOW) compositions (24.5‰ to 26.4‰) suggest that all assayed individuals were non-local to the place they were interred, and most likely originated from central or western Europe. The δ18OVSMOW values also suggest that the local Lithuanians were not burying their citizens in this grave and therefore support the identification of these individuals as Napoleonic soldiers. Complimentary analysis on this sample using stable carbon isotopes (δ13C) suggests that the percentage of C4 foods in the diet ranged from 17.8% to 31.7%, which overlaps with eastern European consumption patterns, the slight shift towards a higher C4 percentage is more representative of a central and/or western European diet. The results are significant because they provide further evidence that these individuals participated in Napoleon’s Russian campaign of 1812, and that oxygen isotopes can be used to identify non-local individuals in this context.


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Stable Isotope Evidence for the Geographic Origins and Military Movement of Napoleonic Soldiers during the March from Moscow in 1812. Serenela Pelier, Tosha Dupras, Rimantas Jankauskas. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 404779)


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Spatial Coverage

min long: -11.074; min lat: 37.44 ; max long: 50.098; max lat: 70.845 ;

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America