Identifying the Lost Soldiers of Fromelles is a great BBC Magazine article on another use of DNA: to identify the remains of World War I soldiers found in mass graves in France.
“The remains of 250 British and Australian soldiers had lain undiscovered for 93 years since falling on the Western Front.Boots, purses, toothbrushes and other personal artifacts lay amongst the twisted skeletons at Pheasant Wood, offering partial clues about the men’s identities.”
“The man whose job it is to help identify the soldiers says it is like finding a needle in a haystack, albeit with a very good metal detector. The problem with DNA that’s been in the ground for 90 years is it degrades in quality and quantity,” says molecular geneticist Dr Peter Jones.”
“If it’s a very acidic site, there’s no chance of DNA at all because acids attack DNA rapidly. If it’s dry and arid like in a desert, you get good DNA. If it’s wet, less good.” The remains extracted from Fromelles’ muddy burial pits have produced small but workable amounts of DNA, says Dr Jones. The teeth, which preserve well because they are encased in enamel, give by far the best samples.” Read that article here.
The first of 250 British and Australian soldiers whose remains were recovered from a World War I battlefield in northern France has been reburied.
The bodies, which were buried by German forces, were excavated from six mass graves in 2008. On the picture on the left you can see the mass grave and the site of the new cemetery.
The cemetery, which has been built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, is currently only 70% complete but due to be finished by July.
The remainder of the military burials there will take place three times a week over the next month, with approximately 30 burials every day. Read more here.