The mystery of who killed 32 men found in a mass grave in Germany in 1994 has apparently been solved by examining pollen in the victims' sinuses.
The identities of both the victims and their killers were unknown when the bodies were discovered in the city of Magdeburg. But the massacre was thought to have been carried out by either the Gestapo during the spring of 1945 or the Soviet secret police, following a June 1953 revolt in then-East Germany.
Researcher Reinhard Szibor's analysis points to the Soviets.
He and colleagues at the Otto von Guericke University in Magdeburg took samples from two of the skulls and found pollen from plantain and other plants that flower in summer.
"We concluded that some of the victims had inhaled large amounts of summer pollen shortly before death," Szibor reported in today's issue of the journal Nature.
That would rule out the Gestapo, which controlled the area until the spring of 1945, when the Soviets took over Magdeburg. The victims apparently were Soviet soldiers executed after refusing to put down the East German revolt.
Jon Nordby, a forensic consultant in Tacoma, Wash., cautioned that the soldiers may have breathed in summer pollen at another time of year, possibly from material stored in a warehouse.