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Patterns of Mortuary Practice Associated
with Genocide
Implications for Archaeological Research
Debra Komar
Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico,
MSC01 1040, Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001, U.S.A. ( 10 IX 07

Forensic investigations of genocide address many of the same
research questions raised by bioarchaeologists, but the express
application of mortuary study theory to international warcrimes investigations has not been reported, nor have modern
examples served as the basis for reexamining mass death in
the archaeological record. Data drawn from single, multiple,
and mass graves in Bosnia and Iraq illustrate the behavioral
processes associated with mass death resulting from genocide.
Strong associations are evident between burial agent and differential mortuary practices. Considerate interments are seen
exclusively in burials executed by friendly forces (“self ”),
while erratic commingling and mass interments result solely
from the agency of enemy forces (“other”). Patterns of mortuary practice are sufficiently distinct as to identify agent of
burial when the details of grave creation are unknown. These
findings allow the reinterpretation of two mass interments in
the archaeological record with evidence of interpersonal violence—the Towton battlefield grave and the Crow Creek
massacre site.
There is no inherent reason to believe that the archaeological evidence of mortuary practices is telling us only
about the activities surrounding death.
—D. K. Charles

The participation of anthropologists and archaeologists in
large-scale international human rights violation investigations
has increased dramatically over the past decade (Komar 2003;
Steadman and Haglund 2005). Although these investigations
are driven by the legal requirements inherent in all forensic
casework, the reexamination of these events in light of specific
research questions offers significant potential. Comparisons
of mass death events in different geographic regions and time
periods also provide unique insights into the disturbing practice of genocide. Of greater anthropological significance is that
such studies serve as a model for interpreting evidence of
interpersonal violence in the archaeological record.
All genocides in recent history have occurred in the midst
䉷 2008 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.
All rights reserved. 0011-3204/2008/4901-0006$10.00. DOI: 10.1086/

of war, not as its cause or consequence but because war suspends the rule of law (Hatzfeld 2005). Both legal and archaeological investigations of conflict must differentiate genocide from other forms of violence. Distinguishing genocide
from conflicts such as civil war requires that three elements
be demonstrated: (l) the physical element, acts of genocide,
(2) the victim identity element, in which victims constitute
an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group, and (3) the
mental element, indicating the intent of the perpetrators to
destroy the targeted group wholly or in part (Williams et al.
While the legal definition of genocide may be recent
(United Nations 1948), the practice is not. Distinguishing
genocide in the archaeological record from warfare, witchcraft, sacrifice, cannibalism, and ritual killing requires evidence of the assailants’ intent. Demonstrating intent in court
relies on action, patterns of action, and implied intent (written
or spoken communication revealing the perpetrator’s state of
mind). Archaeological interpretation requires similar evidence. Further confounding interpretation is the level of social
organization at which such conflicts arise. Whereas aggression
between nations or racial groups may be discernible in the
archaeological record through measures of biological distance
and spatial analyses (Kuwait National Committee 2004; Saller
1962; Willey 1982, 1990), identifying conflict based on religious ideology or ethnicity proves more difficult.
One promising avenue of inquiry may be mortuary practices associated with genocide. Differential treatment or deposition of remains reflects the beliefs and attitudes of the
agents involved. The concepts of veneration and violation and
the systems of space, time, and inhumation analysis currently
employed by mortuary archaeologists provide a valuable
framework for interpreting modern examples of mass death.
Although forensic anthropologists and bioarchaeologists address many of the same research questions, the express application of mortuary-study principles to current investigations of genocide has not been previously attempted. Lovis
(1992) argued for the acceptance of forensic archaeology as
mortuary anthropology but offered no specific examples to
illustrate the point.
The merging of forensic anthropology and mortuary studies provides clear benefits to both disciplines. On the one
hand, the application of bioarchaeological principles to forensic investigations provides systems of analysis that go beyond simple evidence description and allow for interpretation
of the social meaning reflected in conflict-associated mortuary
practices. On the other hand, examples drawn from recent
genocide investigations illustrate patterns of mortuary behavior associated with ethnic conflict that may inform studies
of interpersonal violence in the more distant past.
This study addresses the following questions: Are patterns
of conflict-related mortuary practice associated with the agent
of burial? and If so, can the agent of burial be identified in
the archaeological record? To answer these questions, it ex-

and Van Arsdale (2005). Materials and Methods Information was gathered from reports and field notes associated with my work as a forensic anthropologist with Physicians for Human Rights in Bosnia in 1999. Tests for association were conducted using chi-square analyses.001). . with significance determined by p values ! 0. mechanical. Single and multiple/mass graves contained individuals deposited in nontraditional postures (e. The largest number of individuals with coffins in a single interment was 9. evidence collection.124 Current Anthropology Volume 49. sex and age distributions of the decedents. and other forms of body deposition. Only graves with known agents of burial were included.001). Grave depths varied from ! 10 cm to 1 4 m. A breakdown of decedent demographics for each grave type is provided in table l. Ousley. presence/absence of a grave marker. My job responsibilities included excavation and documentation of graves. and (c) body position and MNI (p ! 0. Analysis of the recovered remains occurred at separate times and locations and. excluding surface deposits. and primary versus secondary deposition.S. body position in the grave. was noted in 10 individuals (8. minimum number of individuals (MNI) recovered from the grave. including members of both the victim and perpetrator groups. and mass graves. agent of burial. Information on the following variables was collected: site identification. Results The total number of individuals included in the study was 1. Agents of burial included 83 self. method of grave construction (manual. cremations. Data were included only from those graves in which I participated in the exhumation. Summary of Decedent Demographics by Country and Grave Type Site/Grave Type Bosnia Single (n p 69) Multiple (n p 45) Mass (n p 5) Iraqa NWA2 NWA9 a MNI Males Females Sex Unknown Adults Subadults Age Unknown 69 193 667 57 141 568 12 36 12 0 16 87 61 177 580 0 4 10 8 12 76 164 96 0 63 27 0 137 33 27 64 96 0 41 32 Final MNI reported in Chomko. consistent with purposeful burning but not cremation. Demographic information on the decedents is included where available. grave depth. All references to witness statements in this study describe interviews conducted with eyewitnesses or participants.4%). prone or with erratic placement of limbs). presence/absence of clothing or body covering. Significant associations were also found between agent of Table 1. All variables were coded and entered into an Excel database. cemetery). This number reflects not the total number of individuals associated with each grave but only those recovered.. The database was then analyzed using the SAS computing program. (b) grave depth and MNI (p ! 0. The results for the 119 graves examined are summarized in table 2. or gags. Two graves in Iraq were not fully excavated because of safety concerns. blindfolds. rural. for 340 individuals in 9 graves.S. Coffins were present in 21 graves. use of natural or preexisting feature). and (3) neutral (third party foreign organization or agency such as the Red Cross). or associated army). The largest of these graves had an MNI of 460 individuals. the MNI was calculated using duplication of skeletal elements and should be considered a conservative estimate. and 3 neutral.001). and the Regime Crimes Liaison Office (a joint venture of the Iraqi Special Tribunal and the U. was conducted by other anthropologists. Only 17 of the 119 graves were marked. and the interviewing of witnesses. (2) other or enemy (different ethnic group or opposing armed forces). multiple. Department of Justice) in Iraq in 2004. Pit-testing of one Iraqi grave (NWA2) prior to excavation by a U.189. the International Commission on Missing Persons in Bosnia in 2001. witness statements not corroborated by physical evidence or other witnesses were considered unreliable and excluded.g. presence/absence of evidence of burning. Tests for associations among variables (table 3) revealed statistical significance in the relationships between (a) grave depth and mode of construction (p ! 0. February 2008 amines the treatment of the dead resulting from the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the former Yugoslavia (1992–95) and the Anfal campaign targeting Kurdish civilians in Iraq in 1987. 33 other. military investigation resulted in the disturbance of a number of individuals who were not included in the study. Both examples represent conflict among ethnic groups within a single nation and legally defined acts of genocide. Categories of burial agents were defined as (1) self or friend (same ethnic group. Agent of burial was determined from statements by those who performed or witnessed the burial. grave location (urban. In cases involving large secondary graves from Bosnia. Number 1. Further. Only other agents used natural or preexisting features as depositional sites. Evidence of perimortem thermal change.05. These interviews were conducted with the assistance of highly trained interpreters. skeletal analysis. presence/absence of binding. presence/absence of a coffin. including 15 single graves and 6 multiple graves. relative. This study focuses on single.

or religious group (United Nations 1948). In the anthropological literature. Secondary graves containing surface remains collected by returning refugees.001 0 83 10 23 0 3 ! 0.5 17 102 14 86 61 6 2 88 9 3 19 17 14 38 34 28 68 8 43 57 7 36 21 98 18 82 17 102 14 86 10 109 8 92 83 33 3 70 28 2 a 2 to 9 individuals. unintentional commingling of elements. while “intent” is the mental resolve to commit the act (Garner 2001). and deny responsibility for action. Summary of Results Number of Graves Total number of graves Single Multiplea Massb Grave type Primary Secondary Spatial distribution Urban Rural Cemetery Grave construction Manual Mechanical Natural feature Undetermined Grave marking Marked Unmarked Body position (single) Supine Prone Side/erratic Body position (multiple/mass) Orderly placement Erratic commingling Erratic deposition of parts Body covering Clothing Nude Blanket. presence of clothing/body cover. evidence of burning.85 61 22 26 7 3 0 0. presence of grave marking.5 17 87 28 3 1 73 23. To fully appreciate the distinction between legal and anthropological concepts of genocide. rug. presence of binding. gender. genocide is defined as the destruction. with only minimal. in whole or in part.125 Table 2. MNI.6 74 8 0 10 20 3 3 0 0 ! 0.5 3 0. or age does not constitute genocide. b . burial and presence of coffin. gags. “Motive” is the personal justification for an act. No significant associations were seen between agent of burial and primary and secondary graves or grave location. grave construction. For example. the Nazi targeting of Jews was legally genocide.001 0 83 17 16 0 3 ! 0. Discussion Legal and anthropological definitions of genocide differ. Hinton (1996. Legally. of a national.001 42 0 41 25 8 0 1 2 0 ! 0. an understanding of the legal definitions of “motive” and “intent” is vital. racial. political party. anthropological notions of genocide focus on motivation and behavior. b 10⫹ individuals. undergo moral restructuring. blindfolds Present Absent Evidence of burning Present Absent Agent of burial Self/friend Other/foe Neutral party Percentage 119 69 45 5 58 38 4 90 29 76 24 15 84 20 12. Associations between Grave Variables and Agents of Burial (119 Graves) Variable Grave location Rural Urban Cemetery Grave type Primary Secondary Constructiona Manual Mechanical Existing feature Grave marking Present Absent Coffins Present Absent MNI 1 2–9 10 ⫹ Body position Orderly Erratic Clothing/covers Clothing Naked Covering Bindings Present Absent Burning Present Absent a Self Other Neutral Party p 61 9 13 23 5 5 0 1 2 0. enabling the assailant to dehumanize victims. Lewin (1993) describes generalized genocidal behavior Table 3.001 n p 118 (construction of one grave undetermined).001 80 3b 0 33 3 0 ! 0. while the simultaneous campaign against homosexuals was not. In contrast. employ euphemisms to mask deeds. plastic Coffins Present Absent Binding. social status.001 14 69 0 33 3 0 ! 0. This describes motive rather than intent.001 19 64 0 33 2 1 ! 0.01 59 24 0 10 18 5 0 3 0 ! 0. ethnic. become acclimatized to killing. 824) describes a “genocidal self ” that emerges during times of conflict. Violence motivated by differences in ideology. and body position.5 70.

they involved purposeful arrangement of remains or attempts to maintain the integrity of individuals. Silber and Little 1997).. Harris 1989). Number 1. 360). 9). 41). Hinton (1996. Secondary graves represented the subsequent interment of surface-deposited remains following decomposition. and neutral agents as individuals returned to repopulate previously abandoned areas and sought to dispose of the dead who had been left where they had fallen. a third category. 604) suggests that the terms “kind” or “social kind” can be used to describe groups established by ethnic divisions or “those summative social identities by means of which members of the society group together and label clusters of social properties. or construction. transport. e. based on exclusion from membership in any of the ethnic groups identified. the level of distinction that best reflects the inter- Current Anthropology Volume 49.” However. A study defining grave types in terms of taphonomic variables found statistically significant differences in decay rates and grave dynamics among single. For example. This was done by self. The term “clandestine” is used to describe unmarked interments whose purpose was to destroy or obscure evidence. While the distinction may appear inconsequential to anthropologists or archaeologists. As defined here. multiple (2 to 9 individuals). a large secondary grave in Bosnia resulted from the mass transfer of bodies from another location by Serbian forces. it remains vital to forensic investigators. Agency has been defined as the “socioculturally mediated but individually motivated capacity to act purposefully in such a way as to create archaeologically discernible change in prevailing modes of mortuary practice” (Cannon 2005. This distinction was incorporated into the definition of “agent of burial” in this study. Widespread agreement on what constitutes a mass grave has not been reached. other. . In this study.” For example. was necessary because it was associated with distinctive mortuary practices. Self-created secondary graves involved the burial of surface remains or reburial of next-of-kin originally interred in other locations. Observation had led me to hypothesize that clandestine mass graves would be located predominantly in rural areas. Other researchers recognize only the distinction between single and multiple graves (Vanezis 1999). Choice of grave location appeared to be a by-product of where the deaths occurred. and the Serbian Orthodox Serbs. Croats have been perceived as both victims of Serb aggression in 1991 and assailants in the Bosnian conflict in 1993 (Boskovic 2005). the definition of “agent of burial” includes the specific recognition of the role of ethnicity in effecting such change. in the wake of the NATO bombing campaign of 1999. Harris (1989.. The exhumation. the ethnic basis of the conflict also requires notions of “self ” and “other. No statistically significant associations existed between grave location and agent of burial. When criminal intent exists. Despite the disarticulated or decomposed nature of the remains. Lightfoot. but chi-square analysis of grave type and location proved me wrong about this (p p 0. because “kind” does not differentiate opposing forces or those divided by aggression or conflict. the conflict in the Balkans involved three distinct ethnicities: the Bosniak Muslims. 821). Determination of the burial agent was made on the basis of witness statements from direct participants. Therefore. grave depth. 699). neutral party. e. but. MNI. While each group features a predominant religion. a stance not easily understood by outside observers (Boskovic 2005. the Serbs have been vilified as the perpetrators of atrocities. and Martin 2000) indicates graves without markings or coffins that were intended to inter rather than to hide the decedents. Malcolm 1996. the term is inappropriate for this study. belief systems. whose motivation may be inferred but whose intent cannot be known. Intergroup variation in language. multiple (2 to 5 individuals). Other-created secondary graves also included the burial of surface-deposited remains for aesthetic or hygienic reasons in areas slated to be repopulated by the perpetrators. For the purposes of this study. and mass (6 or more individuals) graves (Komar 2001).” This differentiates the use of “self ” and “other” in genocidal contexts from their traditional anthropological use (see. and reinterment of the decedents were carried out with heavy machinery such as backhoes and dump trucks. “self ” and “other” follow Talbot (1995). This resulted in extensive disarticulation and the erratic commingling of body parts in the secondary grave.g. For example. it would be inaccurate to describe any of them as religiously uniform. the number of individuals in a grave ranged from 1 to 9 and from 28 to 460. any individual’s definition of “foe” might include either or both opposing ethnic groups. many Serbs also identify themselves as victims. Anthropologists have even attributed “genocidal” behavior to chimpanzees (Lund 1995). In addition to the categories of self and other. 296) argues that genocide “necessitates a continual conceptualization of self and other.8). Othercreated secondary graves were a means of evading detection by international investigators. Rohde 1998. and mass (10⫹ individuals). and Boskovic (2005) in incorporating notions of ethnic-group boundaries formed by the exclusion of others and the development of internal criteria for solidarity (Talbot 1995. February 2008 action among groups includes recognition of self (those of similar ethnicity) and other (those of differing ethnicity). investigators were directed to the graves by informants who claimed responsibility for creating them or witnessed their creation. the Catholic Croats. The complex relationship among the ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia has been examined elsewhere (see. The Balkans and Iraqi conflicts described in this paper took place between ethnic groups within nations. Similarly.126 rather than specific acts. motive becomes immaterial (Garner 2001. While concepts of identity traditionally associated with conflict (such as friend and foe or victim and assailant) can be employed in these circumstances. but clearly identifying opposing forces in the conflict has been problematic. and therefore the categories were single. and cultural practices makes the distinction one of ethnicity rather than religion. while “nonformal” (after Kuckelman.g. Lewin (1993. Depending on the circumstances.

the enemy was always on us. For example. Orderly placement of single or multiple bodies within a grave (fig.or neutral-created burials. in other temporal or regional circumstances. However. Large mass graves often encompassed numerous isolated killings and sometimes represented events occurring over a period of time. the coffins consisted of boards placed above. other-produced graves were best described as body disposal. absence of coffins. One of the challenges facing archaeologists working in historic or prehistoric contexts is the ability to recognize varying grave types as contemporaneous and associated with a specific . In the 21 graves there with coffins present. use of natural or preexisting features such as fissures. all are contemporaneous within their respective geographic regions. However. Without exception. or trenches as sites of body deposition.” according to one Bosniak survivor who had hastily buried three of his family members. acts of veneration include presence of a grave marker. According to statements by those who performed the burials. all acts of violation occurred in other-created burials. including continuing warfare and concerns for the safety of those performing the interments. deep graves with a minimal expenditure of human energy. number of individuals. acts of veneration and violation are culturally and contextually specific and this study in no way adopts a uniformitarian approach. no electricity. presence of a coffin or additional body covering. body position in a grave reflects the attitudes and intent of those performing the interment. Acts of violation in this study were identified as clandestine burial. as erratic commingling is strong evidence of disrespect and violation. The allusion to “bodies as refuse” is appropriate. Anthropologists must take note of local standards when analyzing. such as the traditional Muslim head and foot grave markers commonly used in Bosnia. Despite the lack of available resources. and Martin (2000) use the term “considerate treatment” to describe such respectful acts. represented respect and reverence for the deceased. the inclusion of animals in the grave may be honorific. manpower. Despite evidence of mechanical construction indicating the availability of resources and manpower. Despite the variety of grave types and styles. 1). The acts described as veneration (respect) or violation (disrespect) here reflect the understanding of the communities in which they occurred. such that all individuals were afforded sufficient space.127 The relationship of grave depth. gags or blindfolds. and mode of construction is easily understood. and orderly position of the body within the grave. below. Implications for Archaeology Stylistic Variation and Access to Resources One important consideration for archaeologists raised by these results concerns the interpretation of contemporaneous graves. Mechanical construction is associated with the use of heavy earth-moving equipment. That such graves were often constructed near or within urban centers using heavy equipment suggests that the perpetrators had little fear of discovery or punishment from opposing ethnic groups. While any grave may represent a single attack. in which bodies were thrown into the grave or deposited en masse from dump trucks. In this study. and all heads were oriented in a single direction. acts of veneration reflected the time. in Bosnia wood to fabricate coffins and the tools needed to construct them were scarce. Acts of veneration performed by neutral parties lacked indicators of religious significance. presence of binding. Without exception. or body covering. For example. the absence of any indicator of veneration (such as a grave marker) reflected a limitation of resources or time rather than indifference to the decedents or their social status. while violation denies the dead a resting place (Duncan 2005). Orderly placement was found only in self-created burials. Witness statements indicated that the motive for such exercises was evidence destruction or concern for the safety and aesthetic well-being of the living. The graves described here range from single marked graves with coffins to mass clandestine inhumations. Duncan 2005). Despite their clandestine nature. caves. Postmortem acts of violation are typically reserved for those who die a “bad death. my interviews revealed that the inclusion of pig carcasses in mass graves containing Muslim decedents in Bosnia was considered an act of disrespect by the surviving next-of-kin and intended as an act of disrespect by the perpetrators. and erratic commingling of individuals in the grave. “We did the best we could with what we had—no wood. Given the circumstances surrounding the burials. Kuckelman. The postmortem burning of remains reflected not an attempt at cremation but the purposeful destruction of evidence and was typically associated with the burning of houses and villages following the killing of the occupants. bodies were treated with care and afforded the best burial the circumstances allowed. no shovels. interpreting. No acts of veneration were observed in Iraq. such as backhoes or excavators.” including violence or death in battle (Bloch and Parry 1982. Lightfoot. Mechanical modes of construction result in larger graves capable of containing larger numbers of individuals. clothing. Veneration honors the memory of the deceased. and resources available. or labeling conduct or actions (see Harris 1989). burning of remains. they are all associated with a series of events that collectively constitute an act of genocide. In contrast. and to the sides of the individual being interred. Increased grave depth is strongly tied to mechanical modes of construction. 2) was seen only in other-created burials. as all graves included from that region were other-created. all acts of veneration were associated with self. capable of creating large. the formation of large mass graves by the other was both labor-intensive and time-consuming. While acts of veneration may be limited by access to resources. bodies were placed supine with purposeful arrangement of the extremities. erratic commingling (fig.

Archaeologists should not rely on the presence of any one feature—large-scale inhumations. A grave containing seven Bosniak Muslims excavated in Foca in 1999. Sproles 1985). In periods of warfare. or clandestine burials—to identify genocide but rather focus on evidence of the intent producing such features. they date to approximately AD 950–1300 (Darling 1999). fashion. According to witness statements by the man responsible for the burial. which was carried out by self (fellow Bosniaks). it reflected the variable nature of the resources available to the individual burying the four individuals. (Photo used by permission of the Office of the High Representative. dates on money or newspapers. predominantly with machetes (Gourevitch 1998. This study demonstrates that varying expressions of fashion or construction in contemporaneous graves is reflective of more than differences in social status. The seemingly preferential treatment of the one soldier was not reflective of his rank. and time) and agent of burial rather than the social status of the deceased.000 Tutsis by Hutu extremists known as the Interahamwe was conducted in 100 days during the spring of 1994. The scale of recent atrocities is neither temporally bound nor reflective of modern advances in weaponry and technology. and material culture such as clothing or jewelry styles to date the creation of the grave. it is not the number of individuals killed that defines genocide but the intent of those committing the act. The issue was not one of scale or weapons capability but intent. each act is recognizable in the archaeological record. (c) deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about destruction. It is also important to note the full range of acts that constitute genocide: (a) killing. For example. more than 30 mass inhumations have been reported in the American Southwest. who had intended to treat all four the same. manpower.g. reliance on artifacts and material culture to establish temporal horizons is a well-established practice in archaeology. following which the power had been turned off and the remaining bodies were interred in makeshift containers made of wood scraps. Mass graves occur throughout the archaeological record in a variety of geographic locations. Theoretically. grave fashion and construction are tied to access to resources (specifically materials. Miller 1982. (d) preventing births. In forensic contexts. rather. Evidence of interpersonal vi- . three highranking soldiers and a local civilian. witness statements. Hatzfeld 2005). potential interpretations of such events must include genocide. Once identified.. (b) causing serious bodily harm. time-since-death estimates. February 2008 Figure 1.128 Current Anthropology Volume 49. the site of Detlak in Bosnia (described in Komar 1999) contained the remains of four individuals. Scale Another consideration for archaeologists is scale. showing the orderly placement of the individuals within the burial. Number 1. For example. In Rwanda. conflict. Bosnia. the ethnically motivated genocide of approximately 800. In the legal definition of genocide. trauma. and (e) the forcible transfer of children (United Nations 1948). or social unrest.) event. the first body (a soldier) was interred in a full coffin. typically classified as Anasazi. Many researchers use variation in grave type. Cannon 2005. investigators rely on artifacts such as expiration dates on medicine or food packaging. While the application of some of these methods to archaeological contexts is limited. e. or construction as evidence of social stratification or cultural distance (see.

England. the battle is said to have involved 76. In this decisive engagement between the houses of York and Lancaster. and witchcraft (Darling 1999). Fiorato 2000). an omission that is particularly striking because anthropologists have demonstrated the ability to productively explain the roots of violence in other. Described as one of the largest and bloodiest of the War of the Roses. the Yorkist army emerged victorious (Fiorato 2000). in 1999. Bosnia. 818). An example of erratic commingling. A total of 28 individuals were removed from this clandestine grave in Petrovicka Krivina. and Leonard 2000. Witness statements indicate that bodies were thrown from the top of the cliff and then covered with soil. Lambert. LeBlanc 1999).65 m. nongenocidal contexts” (Hinton 1996. Verano 2001). The remains were erratically commingled. yet “anthropology has been remarkably silent on the topic of large-scale genocide.000 combatants and 28. Towton is a village in North Yorkshire.25 m # 2 m with a maximum depth of 0. ritual sacrifice (Cordy-Collins 2001. The rectangular grave measured 3. mutilation associated with warfare (Bullock 1991). The grave was created by Serbian forces at the base of a cliff. and Coughlan 2000. 1461. Traumatic injury and the presence of ligatures or binding have been cited as evidence of cannibalism (Billman. Two sites—the Towton battlefield in England and the Crow Creek massacre site in South Dakota—will serve to illustrate this.) olence is also common in prehistory. Holst.129 Figure 2.000 casualties (Knusel and Boylston 2006). In July 1996 a mass grave was discovered on the reported battlefield. To date. an express interpretation of genocide has yet to be advanced. social control (Baker 1994. It contained either 37 or 38 individuals (Boylston. Bosnia. (Photo used by permission of the Office of the High Representative. Turner and Turner 1999). in which a battle occurred on March 29. Identifying the Agent of Burial The discovery that patterns of mortuary practice in these cases are strongly associated with agent of burial allows the deter- mination of agency where the details of grave creation are unknown. with individuals deposited prone and .

indications of binding. Zimmerman et al. were excavated in 1978 (Willey 1990). had the bodies been buried by the enemy. Bones were accumulated against the north wall of the ditch. Of the 22 secondary self-created graves in Bosnia. (No secondary deposits were included in the sample from Iraq. Zimmerman et al. east-west. Although prior studies have judged these burials self-created (Sutherland 2000) or of undetermined agency (Knusel and Boylston 2000). Despite the number of individuals. 1981). All were males between 15 and 60 years of age (Boylston. and no kin distinctions were made in the placement of the skulls (Willey 1982. A layer of scattered bones was discovered above the principal bone bed. That “morphologically alien” or “craniometrically aberrant” skulls were recovered from the grave was interpreted as either absence of the perpetrators’ remains at the site or their being morphologically indistinguishable from the victims’. and north-south (Sutherland 2000). Disarticulated remains were piled in the fortification ditch with no systematic effort to align elements. Survivors returning to their villages collected the skeletonized remains of their kin and neighbors and deposited them in mass graves and ossuaries. raising the possibility of raiders’ having taken young women captive (Willey 1990. dating to approximately AD 1325. calculated to be 60% of the village population. Few artifacts were recovered. and personal effects. Trauma and mutilations were evident in virtually all individuals. the deposits are organized by skeletal element with purposeful placement of long bones and the orderly arrangement of skulls. The assertion that there was “a single cause of death for all: warfare” (Larsen 1984) highlights another important distinction between anthropological and forensic interpretation. Comparison with the patterns observed in this study challenges this interpretation. decapitation. is problematic. and the disfigurement of the corpses and the absence of consistent east-west body orientation deviate from the symbolic religious and social norms of the period. 1990). Craniometric and discrete-trait analysis showed that the decedents were most closely related to Arikara (Willey 1982.130 supine and with heads oriented west-east. the pattern is consistent with that of the other-produced graves of the present study.and other-generated burials in Bosnia. The remains of at least 486 individuals.000 individuals at the Ntarama Church contain collections of osteological remains representing hundreds or thousands of decedents. All secondary deposits that were self-created contained fewer than 10 individuals. 160) were responsible for the burial. The use (and possible repeated use) of an existing feature and the erratic commingling of the remains are consistent with the seven burials carried out by the other in Bosnia. and in these three cases attempts were made by the burial agent to separate the individuals: two graves involved multiple individuals placed in separate plastic shopping bags. Extensive evidence of canid scavenging led Willey to speculate that the bodies had remained unburied for several weeks. 1990). Current Anthropology Volume 49. Excavations at the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation in South Dakota revealed the remains of nearly 500 adult and subadult individuals. 41) for the decedents. Number 1. interviews with the burial agents revealed that these misallocated elements had been separated from the remains by scavengers and attempts to reassociate the remains. exposing the surface-deposited remains to weather and scavengers. only 3 involved any commingling of elements among multiple individuals. This contradicts Willey’s (1990) contention that sys- . 1990. Preserved sites such as Nyamata and the massacre of over 5. grave markings. All these features argue strongly for other-creation of the burial. possibly a secondary deposit of bones found after the initial burial or the remnants of disturbance of the primary burial by scavengers (Willey 1990). and absence of coffins. 1981). Sutherland considers the erratic body positions as an attempt to reduce labor on the part of the burial detail and argues that. Zimmerman et al. contained structures that had been burned and additional human remains (Zimmerman et al. The bodies had been deposited in an open fortification ditch and covered with a layer of clay and village midden. Knusel and Boylston (2000) contend that the significance of the burial treatment at Towton extends beyond body placement. Young adult females and old adult males were underrepresented among the victims. The grave was not located on sacred ground. the fact that the bodies had their arms behind their backs has been interpreted as evidence of restraints (Sutherland 2000). Willey believed that returning villagers or “otherwise affiliated people” (1982. despite the presence of a nearby chapel. however. 1981). were made without any advanced knowledge of anatomy. The associated village. Willey 1982. “one might assume even less respect” (p. standards of medico-legal death classification would identify the sharpor blunt-force trauma sustained by each individual as the cause and homicide as a consequence of warfare as the manner of death. Evidence to support this interpretation includes erratic commingling of individuals. and the bodies appeared to have been stripped of clothing and armor prior to burial (Burgess 2000).) The use of the modern Bosnian sample as an analogy for Crow Creek. February 2008 was noted in 90% of the skulls in all age-cohorts and both sexes (Willey 1982. The possibility of other burial locations in the village has been raised (Kivett and Jensen 1979. though sincere. Prolonged delays in burial. 1981). A more appropriate recent example may be the mortuary practices seen in Rwanda following the genocide in 1994. as well as bluntforce trauma to the head. Once the bones were deposited. and Coughlan 2000) with evidence of multiple sharp.and blunt-force injuries. Holst. were seen in both self. Although no ligatures were recovered. While a secondary burial with an MNI of 460 is included in the sample. clothing. it represents an other-created burial. they were covered with a thin layer of clay. while the third grave contained the skeletal elements of each individual bundled in clothing. 1990. and dismemberment. Scalping. Although subsequent osteological analysis indicated that skeletal elements were incorrectly assigned to several individuals.

Boylston. Anthropology Today 21:8–13. Bloch and J. in which the decedent is named. Bloch. whose insightful comments greatly improved this paper. ed. Bullock. While they do not suggest an interpretation of genocide. V. Lambert.. 2005. In Death and the regeneration of life. capital punishment. Coughlan. Studies of mortuary practices associated with modern conflict can illuminate the practices of the past. The question remains whether this reflects a true absence of genocide in prehistory or merely our inability to recognize it. R. can help support the inferences about intent that are essential to interpreting evidence of violence in the archaeological record. While Willey’s interpretation of the agent of burial cannot be refuted. including the eradication of villages. have argued that “the trends were probably the result of factors common across the region—such as environmental. 160). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. friend or foe. The accurate interpretation of violence requires differentiating acts of genocide from warfare and other forms of conflict. Kuckelman. Following the massacre. Utah. Evidence of violence.” Challenging prior interpretations of the violence as evidence of cannibalism. B. Notions of socially acceptable forms of killing (e. and drought in the Mesa Verde region during the twelfth century A. racial or religious identity.. 1–44. Semujanga (2003. indications of social inequality among groups. S. linked to the agent of burial by the witness statements and photographic documentation available for contemporary examples. sacrifice. or witchcraft and building on hypotheses of conflict for the purposes of intimidation and social control. Genocide is not a modern phenomenon. and C. Physical anthropology. M. 2000. Burials in contemporary conflict regions are typically informal and often diverge from culturally prescribed practices because of a lack of resources or because the interments were performed by people with different cultures... as do legal and anthropological concepts of genocide and cause of death. they present evidence of an escalation of violence that had many of the hallmarks of modern genocide: geographic concentration of previously dispersed populations. A. that the Crow Creek burial was other-generated.g. This extends beyond forensic notions of personal or positive identification. and Martin (2000. and B. children. 1991. Knusel. M. L. Boylston. and J. A reappraisal of Anasazi cannibalism. 50) argues that the use of the word “genocide” is a moral act: to employ the term is to condemn the murderer. Human remains were left in some of the village lodges (Willey 1990. To understand why genocide occurs. Establishing evidence of genocide. Conclusion Archaeological and forensic excavation strategies differ (Hoshower 1998). extensive evidence of perimortem violence and trauma. and to the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia for permitting publication of the photographs. the patterns seen in this study suggest.D. Holst. Blue Mountain Shadows 13: 30–41. in a court of law or in the archaeological record. the subsequent occupation of Crow Creek is relevant. 157). Parry. to issues of ethnic. As neither group appears to have inhabited the site during the period between massacre and burial (estimated from scavenger activity to be from weeks to months [Willey 1982. begins with attributing acts to self or other. traditional warfare. we must first recognize when. Oxford: Oxbow Books. Lightfoot. Even genocide is not universally taboo. the evidence argues for its inclusion as a potential explanation for the patterns of violence described. and mass death in the archaeological record has not. A. and the inclusion of women. M. . conflict. Hitler did not invent it. sociopolitical or religious stresses. Acknowledgments I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers of an early draft of this manuscript. 160). 45–59. Cannibalism. ed. on balance. In Blood red roses: The archaeology of a mass grave from the battle of Towton AD 1461. warfare. because the secondary burials in this study were often created by returning inhabitants. P. and how it occurs.131 tematic deposition within the Crow Creek grave was impossible because of the skeletal condition of the remains. mass inhumations. self-defense) versus killing that violates social standards (such as murder) remain culturally and temporally specific. 1994. in their survey of changing patterns of violence in the Northern San Juan region between AD 900 and 1300. the burial cannot be reasonably attributed to either group on this evidence alone. “the functions of the village as a social unit. 1990]) or thereafter (Kivett and Jensen 1976). Finally. to date. Kiva 57:5–16. 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