A past still alive. DNA testing on the human remains of Fosse Ardeatine

Dear imaginary readers,

the idea for this post came to me after I read an an article on Forbes about the DNA testing of the human remains found in the mass grave of Fosse Ardeatine in Rome, written by the archaeologist and science outreach writer Kristina Killgrove.

335 civilians were shot as a retaliation for a partisan attack happened the day before in central Rome, and only 323 corpses were identified in the first forensic intervention on the remains.

I am Italian and working on a multidisciplinary bio-archaeology project that looks at reconstructing the everyday lives of medieval people in Sicily. Sometimes it is difficult to point out how my research it is related to today’s reality and issues, but this study shows perfectly how forensics archaeology and anthropology are bringing back in current discussion themes and debates that are crucial.

From a personal point of view, my family is the result of a very unconventional encounter and mix. My grandfather was a fascist, and voluntarily enrolled in the army and went to fight in Ethiopia. He never regretted his affiliation and that caused severe frictions with my dad who was growing as an antifascist rebel teenager. That was when he met my mum, who was from a farmer’s family very close to the Italian partisans’ resistance movement.

If you quickly check the news about Italy’s political climate, the regime and the regime’s ideas are still relevant in today’s Italian society and identity. Fascist ideas should have been challenged, and any movement inspired on them should have been banned, based on Italy’s constitution. They should have been . Nevertheless straight after the Italian constitution was written, in 1947, a common way of re-thinking fascism started to circulate in Italian society, permeating institutions such as schools and universities, and  the idea that fascism was not so bad after all, took more and more ground.

This is what in Italy we call revisionism, and my friend Alessandra Ferrini produced an amazing short movie called Negotiating Amnesia, mainly focused on Italy’s colonial effort, where she uses photos to get into conversation with people about what they think about fascism and its legacy today.

60 years after the Fosse Ardeatine massacre, that happened on the 24th of March 1944, 12 victims were still unidentified. Even though the study carried out by a team guided by Elena Pilli of the University of Florence was able to uncover only 10 of the unknown identities,  it was still very important from many points of view.

As the researchers state in the abstract, “the genetic analysis offered the families the possibility of replacing the number of the grave with the name of the victim.”


Image result for stragi fasci-naziste italia
One of the many execution of civilians in the Appennini mountains

The first study about the identification of the Fosse Ardeatine remains was published on 2009, and the title was “Forensic DNA Challenges: Replacing Numbers with Names of Fosse Ardeatine’s Victims”.

The study mentioned in the article is from 2018 and the title is “From unknown to known: identification of the remains at the mausoleum of Fosse Ardeatine”.“From unknown to known: identification of the remains at the mausoleum of Fosse Ardeatine”.



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