More than 650 skeletons discovered in Germany in eight mass graves dating back to the 17th century plague

During preparatory excavations for the construction of a retirement home in Nurembergin BavariaThe archeologists they made one shocking discovery: the remains of the skeletons of at least 650 peopleburied all together in at least eight mass graves. Scholars estimate that they could be in total more than a thousand. Based on historical sources, materials found in the graves and radiocarbon analyses, German archaeologists are quite sure that some bodies belong to the victims of thewave of plague which struck Nuremberg between 1632 and the 1633.

The discovery of the skeletons from the mass graves of Nuremberg

The preparatory excavation for the construction of the Nuremberg hospice began in August. According to what was known, the archaeologists led by Julius Deckerfrom the In Terra Veritas, the Bamberg archaeological society in charge of carrying out the investigations, expected to find traces of a 17th century fortification and a 19th century hospital in the area. In fact, what the archaeologists had predicted was exactly in the area, but during the excavations, surprisingly, Eight different mass graves emergedeach containing hundreds of skeletons.

The bodies are arranged in such a way as to be able to dispose of the as much space as possibleOften stacked up one above the other. The presence of buttons and belt buckles suggests that some of the dead were buried clothed. Furthermore, certain bones have been found shatteredprobably due to the vibrations of the ground caused by the bombings of the Second World War, while others have been found stained greenbecause waste from a nearby copper processing plant was dumped in the area.

Archaeologists subjected some of the bones found to analysis radiocarbon. This method made it possible to date the use of these pits to a period ranging from the 1400s to the 1600s. The discovery of some coins and of ceramic fragments has made it easier to date some of the mass graves, assigned more precisely to 30s of the 17th century.

War and plague in 17th century Germany

In the 17th century the Germany she was devastated by one of the most terrible conflicts of European history: the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). At devastation caused by the armies, the famines and the waves of plague (think of the epidemic told by Alessandro Manzoni in Betrothedabout Italy).


Historical sources tell us how it was in Nuremberg particularly devastating the epidemic of 1632/1633during which more than 1,000 people died 15,000 peoplewhich at the time constituted more than a third of the entire city population. They were found inside one of the mass graves two coins minted respectively in 1619 It is in the 1621. On the basis of all these data, Julius Decker is quite certain that at least part of the bodies found in the mass graves belonged to the victims of the 1632 epidemic. Other bodies could come from a lazaretto for plague victims that some documents of the time reported in the vicinity.

The importance of the discovery for research

The plague epidemics of the 17th century indiscriminately exterminated women and men, old people and children, poor and rich. The skeletons found in Nuremberg belonged to people from all ages and social classes. In the tragedy, however, there are interesting things perspectives for the research. The discovery of such a great population sample (according to Decker, at the end of the excavation we could arrive at more than 2000 individuals) will make it easier study of the life of the people of the 17th century. The bones will allow us to rebuild nutritionthe illnesses and the type of jobs And stress that characterized the everyday life of people 400 years ago.