Send to

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Croat Med J. 2007 Aug;48(4):520-7.

Skeletal remains from World War II mass grave: from discovery to identification.

Author information

Department of Forensic Medicine, Split University Hospital and School of Medicine, Split, Croatia.



To present the process of identification of skeletal remains from a mass grave found on a Dalmatian mountain-range in 2005, which allegedly contained the remains of civilians from Herzegovina killed in the World War II, including a group of 8 Franciscan monks.


Excavation of a site in Dalmatian hinterland, near the village of Zagvozd, was accomplished according to archeological procedures. Anthropological analysis was performed to estimate sex, age at death, and height of the individuals, as well as pathological and traumatic changes of the bones. Due to the lack of ante-mortem data, DNA typing using Y-chromosome was performed. DNA was isolated from bones and teeth samples using standard phenol/chloroform/isoamyl alcohol extraction. Two Y-chromosome short tandem repeats (STR) systems were used for DNA quantification and amplification. Typing of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) products was performed on an ABI Prism 310 Genetic Analyzer. PCR typing results were matched with results from DNA analysis of samples collected from the relatives of supposed victims--blood samples from the living relatives and bone samples collected during further exhumation of died parents or relatives of the supposed victims.


The remains contained 18 almost complete skeletons, with considerable post-mortal damage. All remains were men, mainly middle-aged, with gunshot wounds to the head. DNA analysis and cross-matching of the results with relatives' data resulted in three positive identifications using the Y-chromosomal short tandem repeat (Y-STR) systems. All of the positively identified remains belonged to the Franciscan friars allegedly killed in Herzegovina and buried at the analyzed site.


Our analysis of remains from a mass grave from the World War II confirmed the value of patrilineal lineage based on Y-STRs, even when missing persons had left no offspring, as is the case with Franciscan monks. Although this report is primarily focused on the identification of remains from a mass grave, it also emphasizes the role of forensic approach in documenting human right violations.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for University of Zagreb School of Medicine Icon for PubMed Central
    Loading ...
    Support Center