Alleged Jewish cemetery bones 'not burials'

  • 2008-08-29
  • In cooperation with BNS

Head of Israel Geophysics Ariehas Kleinas is tasked with monitoring the controversial excavation (Photo by Vytenis Petrosius,

VILNIUS - The head of the Lithuanian Archaeological Society has saidthat the human bones found at a construction site in Vilniuswere not from burials.

Members of the Jewish community have repeatedly expressedtheir indignation over the construction of an apartment complex on top of whatthey claim is the edge of a Jewish cemetery.

However, Zenonas Baubonis, head of the LithuanianArchaeological Society, said that the bones found at the site in a dig in Julywere not from burials. He said the bones were found a mere 20 to 30 centimetersunderground and that they were not aligned in a fashion that would indicateburial.

"The unearthed layer with the findings may have formed fromsurrounding soil or may have been brought from other locations as constructionruins," the Archaeological Society said in a letter to the Baltic News Service.

"The discovered fragments of human bones make it impossible to determinereligious, cultural or ethnic [heritage] of the dead people," the letter said.

News of halted tests was announced by the Cultural Heritage Department,which said that "fragments of household ceramics and shattered glass, parts ofmetal items, single human and animal bones not in anatomical positions" werefound some 20 to 30 centimeters under the surface.

Senior state inspector of the Cultural Heritage Department, RenaldasAugustinavicius, said last week that the archeological tests would be resumedin September. In his words, Jewish experts had not yet decided on furtheractions regarding the findings.

The bones were found on the first day of digging.

Archeologists started the dig in the central suburb of Vilnius on July 23. The dig will supplement the material gathered by Israeligeophysicists to determine precisely where the boundary of the cemetery is andwhether a luxurious apartment building is now covering part of it.

The dig is being carried out by Lithuanian archeologists under the supervisionof rabbis delegated from the Committee for Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe and Israeli geophysicists who finished surveyingthe territory with their instruments a month ago.

With LGC participation, the Israeli company Geotec conducted a geophysicalsurvey on the territory of the Jewish cemetery in early July. The Lithuaniangovernment paid for the survey, which cost around 350,000 litas (101,450euros).

The cemetery had been active in the center of Vilnius sincethe 16th century, but was shut down in the 19th century and dismantled inmid-20th century. Once it was closed, the Jewish community received a monetarycompensation from the then administration of the Russian czar.