Human skeletons emerge from Vilnius street

  • 2002-07-25
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis

It sounds like a scene out of a Hollywood horror film: The city's main avenue is built atop an 18th century cemetery, but nobody knows the secret until construction crews uncover the bones buried beneath the bustling city center.

That's what crowds of Lithuanians must have been thinking as they watched construction workers on Gedimino Avenue in Vilnius dig out 11 skeletons - 10 men and one woman - buried near the present day town hall and Lithuanian government building.

The discovery on July 17 has become an archeological sensation, and archeologists have already replaced construction workers at the site.

"We have seen a mysterious rectangle on the Vilnius map, which was issued in times of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy in 1756," said archeologist Gediminas Vaitkevicius. "But nobody could explain what this rectangle meant. Now we know it showed a cemetery."

In 1836, some 40 years after the grand duchy fell to czarist Russia, authorities began construction on St. George Avenue - the current Gedimino Avenue - and ran roughs-hod over the old Catholic cemetery in the project's way.

Since the bones were discovered, some Lithuanian historians have suggested that czarist authorities may have had a cavalier attitude toward the cemetery because it was the resting place of enemies of the czars.

"I think, these human bones belonged to participants of one of anti-Russian uprisings, either of 1794 or of 1831. Anthropologists will examine these skeletons and will say more exactly," Vaitkevicius said.

In 1793, Russia, Prussia and Austria annexed large regions of the Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth. Lithuanian and Polish patriots tried to save their shrinking state. One year later, Lithuanian and Polish patriots launched an uprising led by Tadeusz Kosciszko, but the Russian army put the rebels down. Another uprising began in 1830 and ended in defeat one year later.

Archeologists believe the skeletons may be those of the participants in these uprisings because on some of them are pieces of Lithuanian military uniforms. One skeleton also has a bullet lodged in it.