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Grave discoveries

Skeletons reveal hardship at 18th century Louisbourg Fortress.

Louisbourg Fortress on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, was originally a fishing port, but became a fortress, with major fortifications constructed between 1720 and 1740. There were two Louisbourg sieges during the Anglo-French war for control of Canada, the last in 1758, when the British captured the fort and destroyed the fortifications in 1760. After a major reconstruction it became an important tourist destination.

Ongoing excavations led by Amy Scott of the University of New Brunswick have yielded parts of the nearby Rochefort Point cemetery (pictured), threatened by rising sea levels. Over 1,000 people from the fort are thought to have been buried there. So far more than 120 individuals have been recovered, which testify to their harsh lives. They include the discovery of the bones of a 12-year-old girl. Her upper body was strongly muscled, which shows that she had been involved in hard labour. Others of the dead had fractured bones in their hands, arms, and legs. The average age at death was in the mid- to late-twenties, testimony to the tough conditions at Louisbourg.

The deceased comprised a varied group. One man aged between 30 and 35 wore a garment with moulded pewter buttons, which identified him as Swiss Mercenary, recruited in Europe for service across the Atlantic. Isotopic analysis suggests that he may have been born in some part of southwestern Germany. At the moment, the research is focusing on individuals, their medical histories and lives. Once the excavations and analyses are complete, the research will look at broader issues of population trends. The dead and the possessions found with them will be reinterred at a still-to-be decided location, well away from the seashore.

Image credit: The Canadian Press/Parks Canada

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