Spain's Killing Fields: dig unearths dozens of Civil War era dead

Tue Oct 4, 2016 12:19pm EDT
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By Sonya Dowsett

VALLADOLID, Spain (Reuters) - Archaeologists brush soil away from skeletons lying twisted in an open grave, some wearing decayed leather boots, in a cypress-lined municipal cemetery in central Spain.

The grave is one of more than 2,000 mass burial sites estimated to lie across Spain dating from the 1936 to 1939 civil

war and the ensuing dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. Only a handful have been dug up and documented.

Eighty years after the start of the conflict, a bloody ideological struggle between left and right, authorities are backing efforts to recuperate some of the more than 100,000 victims forcibly 'disappeared' during that time.

In the central Spanish city of Valladolid, the council has authorized and paid for excavation work to start uncovering graves archaeologists believe conceal more than 1,000 men and women executed and buried in an unmarked spot in the cemetery.

Since April, workers have emptied three graves of 185 bodies to be sent to a forensic archaeologist for analysis that may help identify the dead. They have started examining the area with radar pulses to find more unmarked mass burial sites.

"This is a question of national dignity and human rights rather than opening the wounds of the past," says the mayor of Valladolid, Oscar Puente, whose council paid 25,000 euros ($27,752) to employ a professional team to work on the site.

"We could not simply look away."   Continued...

A human skull is seen inside one of the three mass graves that contain in total the remains of around 200 bodies believed to have been killed by Spain's late dictator Francisco Franco's forces during the civil war, at El Carmen's cemetery in Valladolid, Spain, August 10, 2016. REUTERS/Juan Medina