A one-legged skeleton unearthed by a team of archaeologists is believed to be one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s generals, Charles-Etienne Gudin, according to a French historian and former soldier.
A team of French and Russian archaeologists discovered the 200-year-old skeleton in July during an excavation in the Russian city of Smolensk, which lies about 250 miles west of Moscow.
Pierre Malinowski, who led the dig, told CNN that after he unearthed the remains he flew overnight with part of the skeleton’s femur and teeth inside his suitcase from Moscow to Marseille to compare the DNA with that of the general’s mother, brother and son.
“A professor in Marseille carried out extensive testing and the DNA matches 100%,” Malinowski told CNN. “It was worth the trouble.”
The Krelim told CNN that President Putin has taken a personal interest in the developments.
The exhumation was requested by the Elysee Palace who were keen to bring the remains to France for DNA testing.
Malinowski flew from Moscow to Marseille with the skeleton’s femur and teeth in his suitcase.
He said he was “worried” and “nervous” because he didn’t have any official paperwork regarding the transfer of the bones, so thought he might get arrested by airport police.
“It’s not every day you travel with human remains in your suitcase,” he said.
Once in France, Malinowski handed the bones over to Professor Signoli in Marseille, who carried out “extensive DNA testing.”
The DNA matched “100%” with the general’s mother, brother and son.
Malinowski said he has a lot of admiration for Napoleon, and he’s always been fascinated by the 1812 military campaign when the French invaded Russia.
He said that he wanted to “find something that touches this part of history between our two countries,” such as the remains of a soldier.
Malinowski poured over archives and discovered that Napoleon had a very good friend – Gudin – who seemed to have been forgotten over time.
“There’s a street with his name on it in Paris, he’s on the Arc de Triomphe. He’s quite a figure, so I wanted to know what happened to him.”
He added: “I read that Napoleon cried when he died. And that he buried him in Smolensk park because he didn’t have time to take the body with him. His plans were to repatriate him later but that never happened because they had to retreat.”
Spurred on by his research, Malinowski was determined to find Gudin’s remains.
He asked the Kremlin for permission to start looking. An official sanctioned the search and wished him luck, he said.
“Basically, no one believed in this story, and that motivated me. I found teams of experts, and set up a project that started in May in Russia.”
After one month, the team of experts found what they had been searching for.
Malinowski was in France when he received a call from a friend who was overseeing the team of archeologists.
“He called and he said ‘Pierre, we’ve found a wooden casket, there’s a head in there.’”
“I didn’t waste any time. I bought a plane ticket, rushed over there and had a look.”
Malinowksi was desperate to know if it was Gudin but had to wait for the remains to be exhumed.
Gudin died of gangrene after having his leg amputated during Napoleon’s failed invasion of Russia in 1812.
Malinowski knew if the skeleton was missing a leg then it was surely the missing general.
“The skeleton was missing a leg, bingo. It was him,” he said.
Malinowski also told CNN he believes Gudin will be buried at Les Invalides, a historic complex of military museums and monuments in Paris, which holds the body of Napoleon.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Kremlin, told CNN: “This story is well known. Russian and French archaeologists did a fantastic job, studying all the documents and conducting a joint excavation.
“As far as I understand, all tests have confirmed that this is indeed general Gudin.
“Vladimir Putin is already aware of that and of course in case the French side indicates that they are interested in this we are ready to facilitate [the shipment of the remains].”