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CSI Flanders: Finding the Fallen of the First World War

(This talk is part of the Brighton Science Festival.)

Martin Brown   

No Man’s Land: The European Group for Great War Archaeology and Principal Archaeologist, WYG      

Thousands of missing soldiers killed in the First World War still lie in Flanders fields. Their remains were lost during four years of horrific trench warfare. Men who had come from around the world to fight on the Western Front were killed in their thousands and all too often it was impossible to recover their bodies for burial. Today, memorials record the names of those who remain The Missing. Every year the bodies of some of these men are found, whether during farming work, development of archaeological research. The discovery of one of these men can be the starting point of a journey of surprising discoveries… 

In 2008 the remains of an Australian soldier were discovered during archaeological works on the former Messines battlefield in Belgium. The man was found lying face down amidst the debris of war. The archaeologists worked with the authorities to recover the body and then set out on the process of trying to identify the casualty. Drawing together a network of specialists and using techniques more familiar to viewers of CSI and Silent Witness they set out to gain as much information as possible from not only the bones, but also from the associated objects found with the man, and even the ground where he lay.

 Hard science, archaeology and anthropology combined to reveal a man, giving him back his name, restoring him to his family and helping build new friendships across the globe. From the bones in the soil to the full military funeral and beyond, Martin Brown, Senior Archaeologist on the Plugstreet Project, will unfold the story of one soldier, lost in the chaos of war until his rediscovery started investigations that could be called CSI: Flanders!

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