In a waist-high trench alongside Spain’s national Highway 1, a dozen volunteers wearing rubber gloves brush tan clay from crumbling human bones. Their knees rest on foam cushions, and a white tent shades them from the summer sun. It’s July 2011—a full 75 summers after Spain erupted in the Civil War that put the bones of 59 civilians in the ground here.
A few steps away from the trench, volunteers hold microphones up to the murmuring mouths of elders from the town of Gumiel de Izán, in the north-central region of Castilla y León. The elders, who harbor memories of summary executions at the site, may well be the younger siblings, neighbors, and children of those in the grave. But at the moment of exhumation, nobody knows for sure. Instead, the volunteers document and collect the physical remains, coaxing out and recording imperfect memories that were suppressed during four decades of dictatorship.
Such sites are scattered throughout Spain, from the Canary Islands to La Mancha to the Balearic Islands. Recent estimates suggest that some 2,000 mass graves may hold the remains of up to 150,000 victims of hasty wartime executions.
Read the full feature in Sapiens: [html] [pdf].
It is also syndicated to Scientific American: [html] [pdf] and Scientific American en Español: [html] [pdf].