Well-preserved WWI Soldier Skeleton Found in Italian Glacier

Story by Nick Pisa for Daily Telegraph, August 25, 2010:

An amateur historian has discovered the mummified body of a World War I solider frozen into an Italian glacier.

Dino De Bernardin made the grim find as he walked in mountains close to his home, which had been the scene of bitter fighting between Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops between 1915 and 1917.

At an altitude of 2,800metres, his attention was drawn to a ‘bundle of rags’ that he saw emerging from the melting ice.

When he went to investigate, he was shocked to find the soldier’s skeleton complete with rotting boots.
Remains of soldier in the snow

Mummified remains: An amateur historian made the grim find as he walked in mountains close to his home in north-east Italy. The area was the scene of fighting between Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops in World War I

Police were called to the scene just below a cable car station at Serauta close to Canazei in the Marmolada mountain range of the Dolomites in north-east Italy. Close to the border with Austria, the area is a popular ski resort in the winter.

Alpine rescue teams were also alerted and the skeleton was carefully dug out from the glacier before being taken to the mortuary of the local hospital.

Today an emotional Mr De Bernardin, who is a collector of World War I memorabilia, said: ‘I couldn’t believe it when I realised that what I had found were the remains of a brave soldier.

At first I saw a bundle of rags poking out of the melting ice and then when I got closer to have a look I recognised the material as military leggings that were common among First World War soldiers.

’I dug away at the ice and then I saw the bones of the skeleton slowly emerging and I could see he was still wearing boots although they had practically rotted away and it was then that I realised I had found the corpse of a soldier.’

Mr De Bernardin added: ‘I have always been interested in the First World War and have been collecting memorabilia for years but this is the first time that I have found the remains of  a fallen soldier.

’It’s difficult to say what happened to him and how he died. But from talking to the police we think he was probably hit by shrapnel from a grenade or he could have stepped on a mine as the bones were not all in one piece – death in war is never pleasant.

’The head is also missing, the torso has been split in half and the legs are damaged.

‘But what struck me was how well preserved the uniform and the boots were – you could still see the nails in the soles and these factors for me suggest it is an Italian solider.’

Canazei Map

The remains were excavated by a police forensic team and taken back down in a zinc coffin where they will now be examined by a pathologist to determine the exact cause of death and his identity. He will later be buried in a military cemetery.

During the First World War the Dolomites were the scene of fierce battles between Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops. A characteristic of the fighting was the fact artillery was used at altitude with horses and donkeys being used to carry the guns up to 9,000ft.

Ninety years on: The town of Canazei, in the Italian Dolomites is now a thriving ski resort but during the First World War it was the scene of fierce battles, with military artefacts littering the hillsides around the townNinety years on: The town of Canazei, in the Italian Dolomites, is now a thriving ski resort but during the First World War it was the scene of fierce battles, with military artefacts littering the hillsides around the town

The area is still littered with military hardware and gas masks, helmets, berets, guns and ammunition. Unexploded bombs and hand grenades are often found as are bits of uniform – more than 9,000 soldiers died in the mountains from either fighting, avalanches or the cold.

It is not the first time a mummified body has been found in the Dolomites.

In 1991, the 5,000-year-old corpse of an Iron Age warrior was found and named Oetzi. He is now on display in Bolzano museum in a special temperature-controlled refrigerated cabinet. 

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