The Recovery of Fallen Soldiers from WWII:the Contribution of Physical Anthropology (PA)

Indra, Lara Isabelle (7 May 2021). The Recovery of Fallen Soldiers from WWII:the Contribution of Physical Anthropology (PA) (Unpublished). In: Jahresversammlung der Schweizerischen Gesellschaft für Anthropologie (SGA). Online. 07.05.2021.

The VBGO (Verein zur Bergung Gefallener in Osteuropa e.V., VBGO) undertakes several
excavations every year, comprising search, recovery and documentation of WWII war dead and their contexts. During the missions so far, the VBGO has been involved in the recovery of over 7.000 fallen soldiers from WWII. These operations follow a historical investigation and in turn entail further tasks, such as the efforts to identify the fallen individuals, to give them a decent burial and to validate and complete the historical events from written records. The major aim of the VBGO is bringing peace to the families of those who went missing during WWII. An aspect that has increasingly be focussed on during the past years is physical anthropology. After we excavate and document the remains in situ following archaeological standards, we inventory,
examine and document the skeletal remains. This process includes the assessment of the biological profile (sex, age-at-death, stature), pathologic conditions that may give evidence of the soldier's health, and the analysis of traumatic lesions which are inevitably present in battlefield contexts. Until now, about 40 individuals were examined by anthropological means. All of them were males and their skeletons showed perimortem trauma sustained to cranial as well as postcranial elements, resulting from blunt force and blast impacts. Another focus lies on evidence collection that may further aid with identification, like anatomical characteristics such as improperly healed fractures or non-metric traits, dental status in case antemortem records might be present, and personal belongings. In addition, a genetic identification project is currently established with the aim to genetically compare the remains with live relatives. Physical anthropology adds a valuable contribution to the missions, especially regarding osteological documentation, reconstruction of health and death circumstances, as well as individual identification. From a scientific point of view, the investigation of the WWII fatalities provides a unique opportunity to generate anthropological data related to recent armed conflicts, with an emphasis on violent impacts to the skeletal system. This may help assessing human remains from similar contexts worldwide, especially from regions where former conflicts still have to be reappraised. In addition, this study shows the potential of physical anthropology in archaeological and simultaneously human rights aims.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Speech)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Service Sector > Institute of Legal Medicine > Anthropology

Graduate School:

Graduate School for Cellular and Biomedical Sciences (GCB)

UniBE Contributor:

Indra, Lara Isabelle


300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
500 Science




Lara Isabelle Indra

Date Deposited:

29 Apr 2022 16:20

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 16:19


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