The skeleton has a shrapnel wound to the right shoulder blade. The corpse was buried by a meter and a half of scree – perhaps due to an explosion or storm – and was never found until now.
Italian troops on the Italian front. Photo: Bibliothèque nationale de France
The skeleton was discovered in May by 57-year-old Livio De Francesco, near the summit of Costabella in Val di Fassa. Di Francesco has worked extensively to recover the remains of soldiers from along the mountains of the great war.
De Francesco is also working to protect and restore the 35km long labyrinth of trenches and tunnels built on Costabella centuries ago. He found the complete skeleton after seeing a pair of old boots poking out of a scree slope after a heavy storm.
“I'm sure it's an Italian soldier”, he told Corriere Della Sera in the video below. “You can tell by what's left of his boots, the '91 ammo he has for his rifle and the Sipe hand grenade found near the body.”
The remains are yet to be officially identified, but the skeleton revealed a healthy young man, around 1.80 much taller than average. “His tooth enamel is in excellent condition,” De Francesco said in the video.
De Francesco believes the anonymous soldier was killed 100 years ago during the Italian advances of June and July 1915, along with several of his comrades.
“June and July 1915 were bloody months on the mountain. At that time, the Italian generals were trying to gain dominance on the peaks that overlooked Val Corevole so that they could potentially open up a route to Bolzano,” Michele Simonetti Federspiel, the curator of a local history museum, told Corriere.
Near the summit, the slopes of Costabella still show signs of their bloody past. The entrances to tunnels and rotten trench boards are still visible and rocks are stained with rust from barbed wire and shrapnel. Every now and again, a body turns up.
In 2014, the mummified remains of two Austrian soldiers were found as ice receded on the Presena glacier in northern Italy, and similar finds are made every year, bringing to light bodies, ammunition and soldiers' belongings.
Italy entered the First World War on the side of the allies in 1915, in an attempt to win the territories of Trentino, South Tyrol and Northern Dalmatia.
Along the front, some 58 Italian divisions fought against troops from the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, alongside a small number of troops from the Czechoslovakia, America, France and Britain.
The treacherous terrain and extreme cold in winters made it a uniquely harrowing theater of conflict. In total, over 13 million men fought along their front, where they braved winter temperatures of up to -30 degrees.
One million men, like the unnamed soldier, never made it home.