When construction workers in Kassel found the bones of some 50 corpses, it triggered a flurry of speculation about their origins. Some believe the remains are from World War II, other say they are much older.
Construction workers made a gruesome discovery and called in forensics experts
Frank-Roland Klaube, an archivist for the city of Kassel, said the skeletons may have belonged to people who fell victim to an epidemic that struck the city in 1814.
The theory was supported by the fact that a military hospital had previously stood on the site, he added.
More skeletons than previously thought
Police have spent the week recovering more and more bones from the site close to the city's historical battlement with a mechanical excavator, and preparing them to be examined by archeologists.
According to initial estimates, the bones had been buried for up to 100 years. But new discoveries every day mean that the theories are changing all the time.
"We don't think we've reached the end of it yet," said a local detective. She said forensic scientists were working to date the bones, but it could take weeks to arrive at a final estimate of their age.
Detective Dirk Kleinhans said the site had seemed until Tuesday to be a cemetery, with the skeletons intact in neat rows. Most of them apparently had good teeth, which suggests that the corpses were not the bodies of old people, the DPA news agency reported.
"But now we've found a second grave site where the bones are mixed up: four skulls near a single torso, all badly battered. This is no ordinary cemetery," he said. "One odd thing is that there are no traces of adornment here: no jewelry, no rings, no buttons."
Henschel used slave labor
The site once belonged to a well-known armaments company, and for the time being, the most likely theory seems to be that the find has something to do with World War II.
Henschel & Son made its name in the 20th century as a maker of transportation equipment, including locomotives, trucks, buses, as well as armored fighting vehicles and weapons.
Early in 1935, Henschel also began manufacturing tanks. By 1945, the company had 8,000 workers working in two shifts each of 12 hours. The company was known to have relied extensively on slave labor.
The corpses could therefore have been slave laborers, forced to work by the Nazis.
Moreover, the company's factories were among the most important bomber targets and were nearly completely destroyed. According to a further theory, the bodies are those of casualties of Allied bombing.
The body count is rising
But local historian Christian Bruno von Klobuczynski said he believed the bones dated back further than the Second World War, reported DPA.
"Look at the building foundations here," he said. "Those date back to 1928 or earlier. Besides, we know that in Kassel, the forced laborers who died and the bombing victims of the Second World War were buried at the municipal cemetery. The Germans didn't just throw them down a hole, even in wartime."
He sees a connection to the Seven Years War, when French troops besieged and captured Kassel in 1762.
Other historians have allegedly also established that the site of the find corresponds to the location of an artillery barracks with stables built in the 1870s.
But the director of Kassel's Sepulchral Studies Museum has pointed out that the site is also close to the Old Town's graveyard as well as Kassel's military cemetery.
"In the past, until the early 19th century, burials often took place outside the official cemeteries," explained Reiner Sörries. "Criminals, suicides and people who were not christened were often refused a grave in church cemeteries."