Mass Grave From War of 1812 Reveals First Evidence of Buckshot Wounds

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Using “proxy buttocks” made of pig parts, a team of Canadian archaeologists recently determined that the earliest known archaeological evidence of injuries caused by buckshot occurred during a battle in the War of 1812.

After studying remains unearthed during excavations of the Battle of Stoney Creek, which took place on June 6, 1813 near the mouth of the Niagara River in what is now Hamilton, Ontario, the team—led by Laura Lockau at nearby McMaster University—recreated the hip wounds of three soldiers killed in the battle between British and American troops. As noted in their findings, published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, the researchers bought pig shoulders from a local butcher and layered them with center loin pork chops and belly pork to imitate a human hip. The pig parts were covered with a modern material similar to British military uniforms worn at the time and fired upon from a distance of nearly 30 feet with a modern reproduction of a smoothbore flintlock musket, the Springfield 1795 pattern .69. The gun was loaded with two types of ammo: “buck and ball" (a musket ball along with three buckshot pellets) and buckshot.

X-rays of the "proxy buttocks" shot with buckshot matched the hip injuries from the soldiers killed at Stoney Creek in 1813. “This is the first time of which we are aware that skeletal lesions attributable to buckshot ammunition have been identified in archaeological material,” Lockau and her colleagues write.

Kristina Killgrove, a bioarchaeologist and contributor to mental_floss, explains in Forbes why archaeological evidence of buckshot wounds hadn't been discovered prior to the War of 1812:

Given the long history of musket use in war, it may be surprising that buckshot injuries have not been identified before. But Lockau and colleagues explain that buckshot is much rarer as ammunition than musket balls, because it was not used by the British army in the War of 1812 and because shortly thereafter, firearms with rifled barrels started replacing muskets as the weapon of choice. Further, buckshot injuries are all or nothing—either they cause only slight injury that someone recovers from or they are deadly. People who were only slightly wounded by buckshot would heal and have injuries that look different than fatal ones.

One thing the researchers were unable to determine definitively is which side the buckshot-wounded soldiers fought on. While only the American army issued buckshot during the war, the close proximity of the soldiers and the fact that the battle was fought at night suggest that friendly fire was “probable,” they say.

[h/t Forbes