Shallow human remains halt Snipiskes dig

  • 2008-09-03
  • By Adam Mullett

Snipiskes has caused an international furor.

VILNIUS - Human bones have been discovered centimeters below the surface of the Snipiskes grounds in central Vilnius.
The discovery  would appear to back up claims that the site is within the boundaries of an old Jewish  cemetery. The government had approved plans to build more luxury apartments on a site that has already been built on, a plan which has outraged the Jewish community.
However Zenonas Baubonis, the head of the Lithuanian Archeological Society, which carried out the dig, said the bones cannot be treated as burials.

Baubonis said that the archeological survey was intended to supplement material gathered by Israeli geophysicists and to determine the precise location and boundaries of the Jewish cemetery.
The original Geotec survey failed to verify the geophysical data and did not specify the boundaries of the old cemetery. The tests were suspended following demands of Jewish representatives who observed the dig.
Archeologists who carried out the research said that the findings, including human bones, had been discovered at depths of 20 to 30 centimeters, while data provided by the coordinator of the geophysical tests, Arieh Klein, suggests that Israeli specialists had registered the depth at 1.5 meters.

The Lithuanian Archeological Society said in a letter that "the discovered fragments of human bones makes it impossible to determine religious, cultural or ethnic dependence of the dead people," and that "the unearthed layer with the findings may have formed from surrounding soil or may have been brought from other locations as construction ruins."

The senior state inspector of the Cultural Heritage Department, Renaldas Augustinavicius, reported that the archeological tests would be resumed in September. He said Jewish experts had not yet decided on further actions regarding the human bones discovered on the first day of digging.
Testing was halted after the first bone fragments were found. Having found fragments of human and animal bones, the Lithuanian archeologists could no longer continue their activities due to objections by the monitors.
Chaim Birshtein, a Jewish Community leader in Lithuania agrees with the stopping of surveying. "Jewish or not, all people's bones should be preserved," he told The Baltic Times.

"By finding the bones, it is proven that this is a cemetery. Whatever has been damaged has been damaged and we just want the bones to lie there in peace now," Birshtein added.
He is, however, outspoken about possible conspiracies against the community, saying, "They don't want to show the truth to everybody."

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

Specialists have so far refused to specify whether the discovered remains were Jewish, saying certain tests would still be carried out because the remains were "not in anatomical positions," and not at the depth of usual burials. The bank of the River Neris has been a place for both Jewish and Christian cemeteries.
The Snipiskes cemetery saga has had worldwide media coverage, and people from all corners have said that it is an issue best resolved quickly. "This whole story has done bad things for Lithuania and for the Jewish community too. We do not find it pleasant," Birshtein said.

The cemetery research is expected to reveal whether a luxury apartment complex was constructed on the location of a former Jewish cemetery. The Jewish community is certain that it was, and it has been expressing its dismay at the alleged desecration of the cemetery on an international level.
The cemetery had been open in the center of Vilnius since the 16th century, then closed in the 19th century and dismantled in the mid-20th century. Once it was closed, the Jewish community received monetary compensation from the administration of the Russian czar.