A mass grave is a grave containing multiple human corpses, which may or may not be identified prior to burial. The United Nations has defined a criminal mass grave as a burial site containing three or more victims of execution,although an exact definition is not unanimously agreed upon. Mass graves are usually created after many people die or are killed, and there is a desire to bury the corpses quickly for sanitation concerns. Although mass graves can be used during major conflicts such as war and crime, in modern times they may be used after a famine, epidemic, or natural disaster. In disasters, mass graves are used for infection and disease control. In such cases, there is often a breakdown of the social infrastructure that would enable proper identification and disposal of individual bodies.
Mass graves are a variation on common burial, still occasionally practiced today under normal circumstances.[ clarification needed ] Mass or communal burial was a common practice before the development of a dependable crematory chamber by Ludovico Brunetti in 1873.
In Paris, the practice of mass burial, and in particular, the condition of the Cimetière des Innocents, led Louis XVI to eliminate Parisian cemeteries. The remains were removed and placed in the Paris underground forming the early Catacombs. Le Cimetière des Innocents alone had 6,000,000 dead to remove. Burial commenced outside the city limits in what is now Père Lachaise Cemetery.
A mass grave containing at least 300 bodies of victims of a Mongol invasion of Kievan Rus' in the year 1238, was discovered during an excavation in 2005, in Yaroslavl, Russia.
The Thirty Years' War was Europe's deadliest religious conflict. In the Battle of Lützen, 47 soldiers perished and were buried in a mass grave. Archaeological and osteological analyses found that the soldiers ranged in age from 15–50 years. Most corpses had evidence of blunt force trauma to the head while seven men had stabbing injuries.
Several mass graves have been discovered that were the result of Napoleonic battles, mass graves were dug for expeditious disposal of deceased soldiers and horses. Often soldiers would plunder the substantial quantity of corpses prior to burial. Generally the mass graves were dug by soldiers or members of logistical corps. If these weren't available, the corpses would be left to rot or would be burned. Such examples have been found scattered throughout Europe.
There are over 2,000 known mass graves throughout Spain from the Spanish Civil War wherein an estimated 500,000 people died between 1936 and 1939, and approximately 135,000 were killed after the war ended.Several exhumations are being conducted from information given in witnesses' and relatives' testimonies to the Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica (ARMH). These testimonies serve the purpose of helping geophysicists, archaeologists and forensic scientists to locate graves in order to identify bodies and allow families to rebury their relatives.
In the summer of 2008, information from these testimonies was used to unearth a 4 meter long square grave containing five skeletons near the town of San Juan del Monte. These five remains are believed to be of people that were kidnapped and killed after the July 18, 1936 military coup.
Another mass grave from the Spanish Civil War was found using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). Eyewitness accounts identified two potential locations for an unmarked grave in mountains of Lena in Northern Spain. Both sites were examined and an unmarked mass grave of approximately 1 meter by 5 meters was found.
Approximately 100,000–200,000 civilians were killed at the start of the Korean War. These people were flagged by the government of South Korea for potentially collaborating with or sympathizing with North Korea. They were arrested and subsequently executed without trial.The sites where the massacres occurred were forbidden to the public. The bodies were considered to be traitors and the act of associating with them was considered treasonous. Despite this, families retrieved bodies from the shallow forbidden mass graves at the massacre sites.
In 1956, bereaved families and villagers exhumed over 100 decomposed and unidentifiable bodies, ensuring that the complete human skeleton was intact.Each exhumed body was buried in its own "nameless grave" in a cemetery on Jeju Island. There is a granite memorial within the cemetery which bears the cemetery's local name, "Graves of One Hundred Ancestors and One Descendant." This name functions to express the opposite of how the genealogy should be as typically many descendants derive from one ancestor.
The Chilean military coup against President Salvador Allende occurred on September 11, 1973. The military surrounded the town of Santiago and searched for people hiding in potential guerilla insurgent locations. Civilians were detained for long periods of time and some disappeared.Following the coup, bodies were abundant in the streets and in the Mapocho River. It is estimated that 3,200 people were executed or disappeared between 1973 and 1990 in Chile. Higher estimates are up to 4,500 people. These bodies were taken to morgues to be identified and claimed. Unidentified bodies were buried in marked mass graves.
From this conflict, several hidden mass graves have been identified. In December 1978, 15 bodies were discovered in an abandoned limestone mine in Lonquén. In October 1979, 19 bodies were exhumed after being secretly buried at the cemetery of Yumbel.Mass graves were also identified in Santiago's General Cemetery with multiple bodies being forced into a single coffin. This cemetery had an influx of over 300 bodies within a three-month time span. These mass graves were distinguished by a cross with the initials "NN." "NN" is indicative of the phrase " Nomen Nescio " or "no name." Following extensive media coverage of these mass graves, the Chilean military decided to exhume the bodies from Lonquén, Yumbel, and Santiago's General Cemetery. The military airdropped the exhumed bodies over open water or remote mountain locations.
Many mass graves of both Turkish and Greek Cypriots were found in Cyprus after Turkey invaded the island in 1974.On August 3, 14 Greek Cypriot civilians were executed and buried in a mass grave. In Eptakomi 12 Greek Cypriots were found in a mass grave executed with their hands tied. On the other hand, during the Maratha, Santalaris and Aloda massacre, 126 Turkish Cypriots including elderly people and children were murdered by EOKA B and the inhabitants of the three villages were buried in mass graves with a bulldozer. The villagers of Maratha and Santalaris, 84 to 89 people in total, were buried in the same grave. Mass graves were used to bury Turkish Cypriot victims of Tochni massacre too.
On March 24, 1976 at 3:21 AM, the media told the people of Argentina that the country was now under the "operational control of the Junta of General Commanders of the Armed Forces."This event and years following it became known as the 1976 Argentine coup d'état. The presiding president, President Isabel Martínez de Perón, had been taken captive two hours prior to the media announcement. The new dictatorship implemented travel bans, public gatherings, and a nighttime curfew. Additionally, the new dictatorship resulted in widespread violence, leading to executions and casualties.
Abducted captives were disposed of in one of the five defense zones within Argentina where they were held. The bodies were typically buried in individual marked anonymous graves. Three mass graves are known to exist on Argentinian police and military premises although other bodies were disposed of through cremation or by being airdropped over the Atlantic Ocean. Approximately 15,000 people are estimated to have been assassinated.
Argentina's largest mass grave's exhumation began in March 1984 at the San Vicente Cemetery in Cordoba. The grave was 3.5 meters deep and 25 by 2.5 meters across. It contained approximately 400 bodies.Of the recovered and exhumed bodies, 123 were of young people violently killed during the 1976–1983 dictatorship. The remaining bodies were identified as older and having died nonviolent deaths such as leprosy.
Many mass graves were discovered during the Vietnam War. In the fall of 1969, the body count unearthed from these mass graves was around 2,800. The victims buried in these mass graves included government officials, innocent civilians, women and children. They were tortured, executed and in some cases, buried alive.
In Quang Ngai, a mass grave of 10 soldiers was discovered on December 28, 2011. These soldiers were buried alongside their belongings including wallets, backpacks, guns, bullets, mirrors, and combs.
Other larger mass graves of Vietnamese soldiers are believed to exist, with hundreds of soldiers in each grave.
The Second Libyan Civil War that began in 2014 is a proxy war between the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) of Fayez al-Sarraj and the Libyan National Army (LNA) of the militia leader Khalifa Haftar. In 2020, the GNA ousted the forces of Haftar, who is backed by the United Arab Emirates and Russia, and captured Tarhuna. The GNA discovered mass graves in the Harouda farm of the town that was under the control of the Kaniyat militiamen, who allied with Haftar in 2019. For a decade, the Kaniyat militia brutalized and killed more than a thousand civilians, where around 650 were murdered in 14 months under the UAE-backed Haftar forces. Thousands of holes were dug by government workers, where 120 bodies recovered. The unearthed remains were used by the families to identify the missing members and only 59 bodies were claimed. Survivors reported that the Kaniyat militia aligned with the UAE-backed Haftar tortured or electrocuted them. Many also reported being beaten by the militia.
The Rwandan Genocide began after the unsolved death of the Rwandan president, Juvénal Habyarimana, on April 6, 1994. Extremist members of the Hutu government formed an interim wartime government. They called for an extermination of the Tutsi population, Hutu political opponents and Hutu whom resisted the violence.The genocide lasted 100 days and resulted in an estimated 800,000 killings.
Rwandan people sought refuge in gathering places such as churches and stadiums. An estimated 4,000–6,000 people gathered in Kibuye Catholic Church. Around April 17, 1994, the church was surrounded by armed civilians, police and gendarmes. Those inside were attacked with a variety of weapons including grenades, guns, and machetes. Survivors of the attack were sought after and killed in the following days. Burial of these bodies took place in at least four mass graves.
The first mass grave resulting from this attack was discovered behind the church where several bodies were left unburied and scattered. In December 1995, archaeologists surveyed the area and flagged any potential human remains. In January 1996, forensic anthropologists located and exhumed 53 skeletal assemblages.A second mass grave was found under a tree marked with wire, indicating a memorial. Below the tree was a trench filled with multiple bodies. The third and fourth mass graves were found using a probe to test for deteriorating remains. The third grave was marked by the local population, similar to the second grave. The fourth grave was identified by a priest.
Throughout the Rwandan genocide, bodies were buried in mass graves, left exposed, or disposed of through rivers. At least 40,000 bodies have been discovered in Lake Victoria which connects to Akagera River.
Mass grave mapping teams have located 125 Khmer Rouge prison facilities and corresponding gravesites to date in Cambodia while researching the Killing Fields. These mass graves are believed by villagers to possess tutelary spirits and signify the dead bodies becoming one with the earth. Buddhist rituals, which were taboo at the time, were performed in the 1980s which transformed the anonymous bodies into "spirits of the departed." In the 1990s, religious ceremonies were re-established and the Festival of the Dead was celebrated annually.
The Mittelbau camps held about 60,000 prisoners of The Holocaust between August 1943 and March 1945. Conservative estimates assume that at least 20,000 inmates perished at the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. In early April 1945, an unknown number of prisoners perished in death marches following the evacuation of prisoners from Mittelbau camps to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany.
In April 1945, U.S. soldiers liberated the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. Only a few prisoners were still in the camp and the U.S. soldiers found the remains of approximately 1,300 prisoners in the Boelcke barracks.The names of these prisoners are unknown. Mass graves of the dead prisoners from the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp were dug by German civilians under orders from U.S. soldiers.
Victims of the Srebrenica massacre were murdered by the Army of Republika Srpska and buried in mass graves. Serb forces used mass graves throughout the Bosnian War and thousands of victims remain unidentified as of 2017.
Ireland's Great Famine lasted from 1845 to 1849, a period wherein about one million people died.Because of the excessive number of deaths and extreme poverty, many families were unable to provide a wake or proper burial for loved ones and used mass graves instead. Archaeological excavations have taken place on Irish mass burial sites. One excavation revealed a mass grave of nearly 1,000 individuals. The skeletons within the grave were layered on top of each other in multiple sub-rectangular pits positioned less than a meter apart.
The bubonic plague outbreak existed in three pandemic waves and is known as the Black Death. In the 1300s alone, an estimated 20–30 million people were killed in Europe and approximately 12 million people were killed in China.These deaths were at least 30 percent of the European population at that time. The last major outbreak of the bubonic plague occurred in London from 1665–1666 and is known as The Great Plague.
In March 2013, a plague pit of 25 skeletons was found in a 5.5 meter-wide shaft during the construction of a new railroad in London. The skeletons were neatly lined up in two rows and were about 8 feet underground.Samples from 12 corpses were taken and forensic analysis confirmed traces of DNA from Yersinia pestis .
In several territories, the amount of death caused by the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic was beyond the capacities of funeral industry, requiring the use of mass graves.
Several mass graves of Spanish flu victims were created in Australia,Canada, and the United States.
Reports of mass graves having been dug for COVID-19 victims have been made about Iran, using satellite pictures of sites near Qom as evidence.
In New York City, mass graves have been prepared in Hart Island for an afflux of dead;however, other reports said mass graves would be unlikely in the United States. University of Huddersfield experts said mass graves might be considered if local services end up overwhelmed. Following the rise of deaths and morgues being overwhelmed, New York City has temporarily allowed for mass graves on Hart Island for unclaimed bodies.
In Brazil, the city of Manaus, in the state of Amazonas, used mass gravesafter a large spike in deaths attributed to the pandemic.
The Brunner Mine disaster occurred at 9:30 a.m. on March 26, 1896. An underground explosion caused the death of 65 miners, making it New Zealand's deadliest mining disaster. Of the 53 victims buried in Stillwater cemetery, 33 victims were in one mass grave.
Following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, thousands of bodies were left in the streets on Port-au-Prince, exposed to the sun and beginning to decompose and smell.The government of Haiti collected the bodies on the street, along with rubble through use of dump trucks and other heavy machinery. The bodies and rubble were then transported to empty rectangular holes, 20 feet deep, 20 feet wide and 100 feet long. No efforts were taken to identify the dead that were transported and buried.
Within Haitian culture, burial rituals hold great significance and the sacred ceremonies can cost more than their own homes.There is a Haitian Vodou belief that the dead continue to live and are connected to their ancestors through these rituals. The burial of unidentified corpses in mass graves rather than familial plots severs this spiritual link between the living and dead.
As the casualties of the Typhoon Haiyan were in the thousands, unidentified or unknown corpses were buried in several mass graves in Leyte (especially in Tacloban City where the most deaths happened), Samar and other areas, while identified corpses were given to their families for burial.
The debate surrounding mass graves amongst epidemiologists includes whether or not, in a natural disaster, to leave corpses for traditional individual burials, or to bury corpses in mass graves. For example, if an epidemic occurs during winter, flies are less likely to infest corpses, reducing the risk of outbreaks of dysentery, diarrhea, diphtheria, or tetanus, which decreases the urgency to use mass graves. A research published in 2004 indicates that the health risks from dead bodies after natural disasters are relatively limited.
Burial, also known as interment or inhumation, is a method of final disposition whereby a dead body is placed into the ground, sometimes with objects. This is usually accomplished by excavating a pit or trench, placing the deceased and objects in it, and covering it over. A funeral is a ceremony that accompanies the final disposition. Humans have been burying their dead since shortly after the origin of the species. Burial is often seen as indicating respect for the dead. It has been used to prevent the odor of decay, to give family members closure and prevent them from witnessing the decomposition of their loved ones, and in many cultures it has been seen as a necessary step for the deceased to enter the afterlife or to give back to the cycle of life.
The Gardelegen massacre was a massacre perpetrated by the German local population with minor direction from the SS during World War II. On April 13, 1945, on the Isenschnibbe estate near the northern German town of Gardelegen, the troops forced over 1,000 slave laborers who were part of a transport train evacuated from the Mittelbau-Dora and Hannover-Stöcken concentration camps into a large barn, which was then set on fire.
Sonderaktion 1005, also called Aktion 1005, or Enterdungsaktion, began in May 1942 during World War II to hide any evidence that people had been murdered by Nazi Germany in German-occupied Poland and Soviet Union. The project, which was conducted in secrecy from 1942 to 1944, focused on concealing evidence of mass murder at the Operation Reinhard killing centres, as well as at other sites. Groups of Sonderkommando prisoners, officially called Leichenkommandos, were used to exhume mass graves and burn the bodies; inmates were often put in chains to prevent them from escaping.
The Holy Innocents' Cemetery is a defunct cemetery in Paris that was used from the Middle Ages until the late 18th century. It was the oldest and largest cemetery in Paris and had often been used for mass graves. It was closed because of overuse in 1780, and in 1786 the remaining corpses were exhumed and transported to the unused subterranean quarries near Montparnasse known as the Catacombs. The place Joachim-du-Bellay in the Les Halles district now covers the site of the cemetery.
In Chechnya, mass graves containing hundreds of corpses have been uncovered since the beginning of the Chechen wars in 1994. As of June 2008, there were 57 registered locations of mass graves in Chechnya. According to Amnesty International, thousands may be buried in unmarked graves including up to 5,000 civilians who disappeared since the beginning of the Second Chechen War in 1999. In 2008, the largest mass grave found to date was uncovered in Grozny, containing some 800 bodies from the First Chechen War in 1995. Russia's general policy to the Chechen mass graves is to not exhume them.
The Korićani Cliffs massacre was the mass murder of more than 200 Bosniak and Croat men on 21 August 1992, during the Bosnian War, at the Korićani Cliffs on Mount Vlašić in central Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Mass graves in Iraq have become well known since the 2003 invasion of Iraq toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein. International Experts estimated that 300,000 victims could be in these mass graves alone. The mass graves mostly included the remains of Shia Muslims and ethnic Kurds, who were killed for opposing the regime between 1983 and 1991.
Mass graves in the Soviet Union were used for the burial of mass numbers of citizens and foreigners executed by the government of the Soviet Union under Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. These mass killings started in 1918 as Red Terror during Russian Civil War, and reached their peak in the Great Purge of 1937–38. They were carried out by the security organisations, such as the NKVD.
The Przyszowice massacre was a massacre perpetrated by the Red Army against civilian inhabitants of the Polish village of Przyszowice in Upper Silesia during the period January 26 to January 28, 1945. Sources vary on the number of victims, which range from 54 to over 60 – and possibly as many as 69. The Institute of National Remembrance, a Polish organization that carried out research into these events, has declared that the Przyszowice massacre was a crime against humanity.
The Vinnytsia massacre was a mass execution of between 9,000 and 11,000 people in the Ukrainian town of Vinnytsia by the Soviet secret police NKVD during the Great Purge or Yezhovshchina in 1937–1938. Mass graves in Vinnytsia were discovered during Nazi Germany's occupation of Ukraine in 1943. The investigation of the site first conducted by the international Katyn Commission coincided with the discovery of a similar mass murder site of Polish prisoners of war in Katyn. Nazi Germany utilized this evidence of Communist terror to discredit the Soviet Union internationally. It became one of the better known sites of politically motivated NKVD massacres among many in Ukraine.
The Warsaw Insurgents Cemetery is located at 174/176 Wolska Street in the Wola district of Warsaw. It was established in 1945 and occupies 1.5 hectares.
The Barbara Pit massacre, also known as the Huda Jama massacre, was the mass killing of prisoners of war of the NDH Armed Forces and the Slovene Home Guard, as well as civilians after the end of World War II in Yugoslavia, in an abandoned coal mine near Huda Jama, Slovenia. More than a thousand people were killed by the Yugoslav Partisans during May and June 1945, following the Bleiburg repatriations. The location of the massacre was then sealed with concrete barriers and discussion about it was forbidden.
EwaElvira Klonowski is a forensic anthropologist. She took political refuge in Iceland in 1981, following the declaration of martial law in the People's Republic of Poland. She has been living in Reykjavik, Iceland since 1982. In 1996, she began working on individual and mass graves exhumation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since then, she has been responsible for the excavation and identification of over 2,000 victims, and in 2005 she was nominated to the list of the 1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Čemerno massacre refers to the massacre of ethnic Serbs of the village of Čemerno, in the Ilijaš Municipality, near Sarajevo, on 10 June 1992, during the Bosnian War.
The massacres in Piaśnica were a set of mass executions carried out by Nazi Germany during World War II, between the fall of 1939 and spring of 1940 in Piaśnica Wielka in the Darzlubska Wilderness near Wejherowo. The exact number of people murdered is unknown, but estimates range between 12,000 and 14,000 victims. Most of them were Polish intellectuals from Gdańsk Pomerania, but Poles, Jews, Czechs and German inmates from mental hospitals from the General Government and the Third Reich were also murdered. After the Stutthof concentration camp, Piaśnica was the largest site of killings of Polish civilians in Pomerania by the Germans, and for this reason, is sometimes referred to as the "second" or "Pomeranian" Katyn. It was the first large scale Nazi atrocity in occupied Poland.
Lake Perućac is an artificial lake on the Drina River, on the border between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. It was created in 1966 and occupies a natural bend of the river, which encircles the Tara mountain, between towns of Višegrad in Bosnia and Bajina Bašta in Serbia.
The Tatarka common graves were mass graves discovered in April–August 1943, during World War II, by Axis-allied Romanian troops occupying Transnistria, on a lot of 1,000 m2 (11,000 sq ft) in Tatarka, now Prylymanske, in Odessa Raion, near Odessa. Some 42 separate common graves of several dozen bodies each were identified, containing between 3,500 and 5,000 bodies, of which 516 were exhumed, studied, and buried in a cemetery before the region became a front line. The commission set up by the Romanian authorities to investigate these graves reported that among the dead were persons arrested in the Moldavian ASSR in 1938–1940 and in Bessarabia and northern Bukovina in 1940–1941.
The Tezno massacre was the mass killing of POWs and civilians of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) that took place in Tezno near Maribor, after the end of World War II in Yugoslavia. The killings were perpetrated by units of the Yugoslav Partisans in May 1945, following the Bleiburg repatriations. Summary executions began on 19 May when first prisoners arrived to the Tezno forest from nearby prison camps and continued until 26 May. Most of the bodies were buried in a several kilometers long antitank trench, which the Yugoslav authorities concealed and kept secret.
Patio 29 is a common grave site in Santiago General Cemetery in Chile, where political prisoners, especially those who "disappeared" during the 1973 Chilean coup d'état, were buried anonymously. The mass grave, the largest of Augusto Pinochet's military government, was used for unannounced and unmarked burials in the 1970s until an anonymous tip alerted the public to its usage. With the return of democracy to Chile in 1990, an exhumation effort through 2006 recovered 126 bodies in 105 graves and identified three-quarters of the victims. A 2005 DNA test later reported widespread identification errors and a new identification database began in 2007. Exhumation authorities report that the site has been fully exhumed, a claim contested by which families of the victims.
The Snagovo massacre refers to the mass killing of 36 Bosnian Muslim civilians by Serbs on 29 April 1992 in the village Snagovo, located in the municipality of Zvornik, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The massacre occurred at the start of the Bosnian War.
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