When the old man approached after Bernard Wilkin had given a speech on battlefield bones, it’s safe to say Wilkin wasn’t expecting the man’s initial tactic.

“You should know I have Prussians in my attic,” the man told him, Wilkin, an author and researcher, recalled in an interview Thursday with NBC News. «That took me by surprise.»

Last week, a forensic analysis revealed the man was storing rare remains from the 1815 Battle of Waterloo, the final defeat of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte by coalition forces led by Britain’s Duke of Wellington and the Prussian army. of General Gebhard von Blücher after dominating much of Europe.

“He basically had them for decades,” Wilkin said of the man, who chose to remain anonymous and did not want the bones to end up in the trash after he died.

The skull of a Prussian soldier who fought at the Battle of Waterloo. AWAP

Wilkin, a senior researcher at the Belgian State Archives, said he was approached by the man in November at a conference in the city of Waterloo, about 20 miles south of Belgium’s capital Brussels.

Wilkin said he had just spoken about how common it was for farmers across Europe to dig up and sell bones to the sugar industry, focusing on how the bones were used to produce a particular type of charcoal that would purify the sugar.

Estimates vary on how many died in the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, but the number runs into the thousands.

Many were buried in mass graves that were looted, looted for bones for sugar production, Wilkin said.

Only two complete human skeletons have been formally excavated from the Waterloo battlefield, according to the British charity Waterloo Uncovered.

A few days after the conference, Wilkin visited the man’s house in the town of Plancenoit, where he showed him the bones.

Wilkin said the man was an avid collector of Waterloo memorabilia, who had been in possession of the bones since the 1980s after being given them by a friend who had discovered them near a battlefield at Plancenoit. He added that it was the site where the French forces had fought against the Prussians.

As director of a small museum about the Battle of Waterloo, the man wrestled with the idea of ​​displaying the bones, but for «ethical» reasons, he kept them in his attic, Wilkin said.

The man also told him about a friend who «has four British soldiers,» Wilkin said, adding that the second man was a metal detector enthusiast who had illegally searched a second battlefield at Waterloo.

Analysis of those bones by a team of anthropologists and forensic doctors confirmed last week that they were the remains of at least six British soldiers, not four as initially assumed.

Philippe Boxho, a professor of forensic medicine who examined the bones, also discovered that one of the Prussian soldiers had suffered blunt force trauma around the eye socket, Wilkin said.

«There’s clearly a sword that went through the eye,» Wilkin said. «The front was probably rammed with a rifle butt very violently.»

“I have been a historian for 20 years and I only work on battles,” he added. “Looking at the soldiers and then hearing the explanation of how they died instead of reading it in a text, makes a big difference. I really fell for this poor guy.”

The remains are currently undergoing forensic analysis in the Belgian city of Liège, where Wilkin is based, to confirm the soldier’s identity and provide facial reconstructions of at least one of the skulls, he said.

A Waterloo Uncovered spokesperson added that they hoped the bones «may shed new light on the dramatic events of the battle and the hardships suffered by those who fought in it.»