Forensic archaeologists have uncovered victims executed by the Franco regime at the end of the Spanish Civil War.
The individuals were killed and buried in a civil cemetery at Almagro, in the Ciudad Real region of Spain, between 1939 and 1940.
The war, which broke out in 1936, saw a nationalist uprising under General Francisco Franco defeat and overthrow the country’s Republic Popular Front government. Franco later ruled Spain as a dictator until his death in 1975.
The team of archaeologists and anthropologists from Cranfield University worked in cooperation with the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) and social anthropologists from Mapas de Memoria (‘Maps of Memory’).
Focusing on 26 individuals, researchers explored a separate area of the Almagro graveyard that had been closed for many decades. A total of 11 pits were discovered, containing several bodies with gunshot wounds to the head. Personal effects and clothing were also found.
The remains were later taken to the forensic anthropology laboratory at UCM to determine the circumstances of each individual’s death. Genetic analysis will attempt to identify living family members, to whom the remains will be passed for burial if possible.
Leading the excavation is Dr Nicholas Márquez-Grant, Senior Lecturer in Forensic Anthropology at Cranfield Forensic Institute (CFI). ‘This excavation is particularly complex due to the number of victims and subsequent burials in the cemetery during the post-war period,’ he said.
‘Recovery of the bodies is carried out layer by layer, and is only the start of the process to identify and bring dignity to the deceased and help to provide closure and peace to their families.’
However, some families have already found closure. José Barrios, whose great uncle – also named José Barrios – was executed and buried at the site, said: ‘When the excavation started, I did not feel much, but when they found the first body, I saw the skull and the feet of an individual, I thought: we are here now, we are coming to find you.’
The wider Maps of Memory project, which is funded by the Ciudad Real Provincial Council, has in the last decade located 53 mass graves and has named 3,457 victims of the Franco regime in the province.
The site at Almagro is the largest mass grave to have yet been opened in Ciudad Real, although there are known to be others with hundreds of victims buried in them.