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. (dkomar@salud.unm.edu) 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-

grave depth. Ousley. and the interviewing of witnesses. mechanical. and other forms of body deposition. skeletal analysis. sex and age distributions of the decedents. rural. This study focuses on single. presence/absence of a grave marker. military investigation resulted in the disturbance of a number of individuals who were not included in the study.001). method of grave construction (manual. or associated army). Categories of burial agents were defined as (1) self or friend (same ethnic group. with significance determined by p values ! 0. presence/absence of a coffin. Coffins were present in 21 graves.g.001). cremations. The database was then analyzed using the SAS computing program. The results for the 119 graves examined are summarized in table 2. 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. All references to witness statements in this study describe interviews conducted with eyewitnesses or participants. Only other agents used natural or preexisting features as depositional sites. and Van Arsdale (2005). My job responsibilities included excavation and documentation of graves. A breakdown of decedent demographics for each grave type is provided in table l. agent of burial.S. Agent of burial was determined from statements by those who performed or witnessed the burial. 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. 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. the MNI was calculated using duplication of skeletal elements and should be considered a conservative estimate. or gags. including members of both the victim and perpetrator groups. and (c) body position and MNI (p ! 0. cemetery). minimum number of individuals (MNI) recovered from the grave. excluding surface deposits. presence/absence of binding. Both examples represent conflict among ethnic groups within a single nation and legally defined acts of genocide. Significant associations were also found between agent of Table 1. for 340 individuals in 9 graves. evidence collection. . Tests for associations among variables (table 3) revealed statistical significance in the relationships between (a) grave depth and mode of construction (p ! 0. Pit-testing of one Iraqi grave (NWA2) prior to excavation by a U. In cases involving large secondary graves from Bosnia. relative. 33 other. body position in the grave. Single and multiple/mass graves contained individuals deposited in nontraditional postures (e.05.189. The largest of these graves had an MNI of 460 individuals. All variables were coded and entered into an Excel database.. witness statements not corroborated by physical evidence or other witnesses were considered unreliable and excluded. These interviews were conducted with the assistance of highly trained interpreters. consistent with purposeful burning but not cremation. Demographic information on the decedents is included where available. Agents of burial included 83 self. and mass graves. Results The total number of individuals included in the study was 1. Evidence of perimortem thermal change.S. Two graves in Iraq were not fully excavated because of safety concerns. use of natural or preexisting feature). Grave depths varied from ! 10 cm to 1 4 m. Analysis of the recovered remains occurred at separate times and locations and. the International Commission on Missing Persons in Bosnia in 2001. Information on the following variables was collected: site identification.4%).124 Current Anthropology Volume 49. grave location (urban. prone or with erratic placement of limbs). presence/absence of clothing or body covering. Only 17 of the 119 graves were marked. and (3) neutral (third party foreign organization or agency such as the Red Cross). blindfolds.001). Only graves with known agents of burial were included. Tests for association were conducted using chi-square analyses. This number reflects not the total number of individuals associated with each grave but only those recovered. was noted in 10 individuals (8. and primary versus secondary deposition. multiple. Department of Justice) in Iraq in 2004. The largest number of individuals with coffins in a single interment was 9. Further. was conducted by other anthropologists. Number 1. and 3 neutral. (b) grave depth and MNI (p ! 0. Data were included only from those graves in which I participated in the exhumation. including 15 single graves and 6 multiple graves. and the Regime Crimes Liaison Office (a joint venture of the Iraqi Special Tribunal and the U. (2) other or enemy (different ethnic group or opposing armed forces). presence/absence of evidence of burning.

evidence of burning.6 74 8 0 10 20 3 3 0 0 ! 0. No significant associations were seen between agent of burial and primary and secondary graves or grave location.125 Table 2. and deny responsibility for action. in whole or in part.001 0 83 17 16 0 3 ! 0. enabling the assailant to dehumanize victims. 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. Lewin (1993) describes generalized genocidal behavior Table 3. Hinton (1996.001 n p 118 (construction of one grave undetermined).001 19 64 0 33 2 1 ! 0. rug.001 14 69 0 33 3 0 ! 0. “Motive” is the personal justification for an act. In the anthropological literature. To fully appreciate the distinction between legal and anthropological concepts of genocide. plastic Coffins Present Absent Binding.5 17 87 28 3 1 73 23. undergo moral restructuring. 824) describes a “genocidal self ” that emerges during times of conflict. of a national. presence of clothing/body cover. while the simultaneous campaign against homosexuals was not.01 59 24 0 10 18 5 0 3 0 ! 0.5 3 0. gender. Discussion Legal and anthropological definitions of genocide differ. racial. while “intent” is the mental resolve to commit the act (Garner 2001). grave construction.5 70. political party. or age does not constitute genocide. Secondary graves containing surface remains collected by returning refugees. employ euphemisms to mask deeds. b . the Nazi targeting of Jews was legally genocide. burial and presence of coffin. 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. This describes motive rather than intent. presence of grave marking. an understanding of the legal definitions of “motive” and “intent” is vital. b 10⫹ individuals. genocide is defined as the destruction. become acclimatized to killing. 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. presence of binding. ethnic. with only minimal. social status.85 61 22 26 7 3 0 0. In contrast. unintentional commingling of elements. For example.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. MNI. and body position.001 42 0 41 25 8 0 1 2 0 ! 0.001 0 83 10 23 0 3 ! 0. Violence motivated by differences in ideology. Legally. gags. anthropological notions of genocide focus on motivation and behavior. or religious group (United Nations 1948).001 80 3b 0 33 3 0 ! 0.

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

and all heads were oriented in a single direction. all acts of violation occurred in other-created burials. all are contemporaneous within their respective geographic regions. Without exception. in Bosnia wood to fabricate coffins and the tools needed to construct them were scarce. Mechanical construction is associated with the use of heavy earth-moving equipment. In contrast.” including violence or death in battle (Bloch and Parry 1982. in other temporal or regional circumstances. including continuing warfare and concerns for the safety of those performing the interments. According to statements by those who performed the burials. while violation denies the dead a resting place (Duncan 2005). presence of binding. Despite the lack of available resources. Despite the variety of grave types and styles. or trenches as sites of body deposition. 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. While acts of veneration may be limited by access to resources. Despite evidence of mechanical construction indicating the availability of resources and manpower. For example. and to the sides of the individual being interred. such as backhoes or excavators. and mode of construction is easily understood. Acts of violation in this study were identified as clandestine burial. 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. and Martin (2000) use the term “considerate treatment” to describe such respectful acts. Acts of veneration performed by neutral parties lacked indicators of religious significance. 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. below. Postmortem acts of violation are typically reserved for those who die a “bad death. 1). However. body position in a grave reflects the attitudes and intent of those performing the interment. Implications for Archaeology Stylistic Variation and Access to Resources One important consideration for archaeologists raised by these results concerns the interpretation of contemporaneous graves. acts of veneration and violation are culturally and contextually specific and this study in no way adopts a uniformitarian approach. The graves described here range from single marked graves with coffins to mass clandestine inhumations. Kuckelman. 2) was seen only in other-created burials. 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 . Witness statements indicated that the motive for such exercises was evidence destruction or concern for the safety and aesthetic well-being of the living. Lightfoot. Anthropologists must take note of local standards when analyzing. or labeling conduct or actions (see Harris 1989). and resources available. such as the traditional Muslim head and foot grave markers commonly used in Bosnia. caves. as all graves included from that region were other-created. all acts of veneration were associated with self. no shovels. acts of veneration include presence of a grave marker. Without exception. erratic commingling (fig. gags or blindfolds.or neutral-created burials. “We did the best we could with what we had—no wood. such that all individuals were afforded sufficient space. as erratic commingling is strong evidence of disrespect and violation. For example. deep graves with a minimal expenditure of human energy. bodies were treated with care and afforded the best burial the circumstances allowed. the formation of large mass graves by the other was both labor-intensive and time-consuming. they are all associated with a series of events that collectively constitute an act of genocide. capable of creating large.” according to one Bosniak survivor who had hastily buried three of his family members. or body covering. The allusion to “bodies as refuse” is appropriate. clothing. Increased grave depth is strongly tied to mechanical modes of construction. the inclusion of animals in the grave may be honorific. the coffins consisted of boards placed above. Orderly placement of single or multiple bodies within a grave (fig. and erratic commingling of individuals in the grave.127 The relationship of grave depth. burning of remains. No acts of veneration were observed in Iraq. presence of a coffin or additional body covering. absence of coffins. Mechanical modes of construction result in larger graves capable of containing larger numbers of individuals. In this study. interpreting. Veneration honors the memory of the deceased. the enemy was always on us. acts of veneration reflected the time. number of individuals. represented respect and reverence for the deceased. in which bodies were thrown into the grave or deposited en masse from dump trucks. In the 21 graves there with coffins present. Duncan 2005). 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 orderly position of the body within the grave. Given the circumstances surrounding the burials. bodies were placed supine with purposeful arrangement of the extremities. Orderly placement was found only in self-created burials. While any grave may represent a single attack. other-produced graves were best described as body disposal. no electricity. The acts described as veneration (respect) or violation (disrespect) here reflect the understanding of the communities in which they occurred. manpower. Despite their clandestine nature. However. Large mass graves often encompassed numerous isolated killings and sometimes represented events occurring over a period of time. use of natural or preexisting features such as fissures.

potential interpretations of such events must include genocide. or social unrest. Number 1. Many researchers use variation in grave type. the ethnically motivated genocide of approximately 800. trauma. manpower. conflict. Hatzfeld 2005). Once identified. grave fashion and construction are tied to access to resources (specifically materials. dates on money or newspapers. For example. It is also important to note the full range of acts that constitute genocide: (a) killing. Miller 1982. (Photo used by permission of the Office of the High Representative.000 Tutsis by Hutu extremists known as the Interahamwe was conducted in 100 days during the spring of 1994.. Sproles 1985). predominantly with machetes (Gourevitch 1998. A grave containing seven Bosniak Muslims excavated in Foca in 1999. the site of Detlak in Bosnia (described in Komar 1999) contained the remains of four individuals. and material culture such as clothing or jewelry styles to date the creation of the grave. and (e) the forcible transfer of children (United Nations 1948). which was carried out by self (fellow Bosniaks). Evidence of interpersonal vi- . In periods of warfare. In forensic contexts. While the application of some of these methods to archaeological contexts is limited. who had intended to treat all four the same. or clandestine burials—to identify genocide but rather focus on evidence of the intent producing such features. Scale Another consideration for archaeologists is scale. In Rwanda. fashion. e. or construction as evidence of social stratification or cultural distance (see. For example. it reflected the variable nature of the resources available to the individual burying the four individuals.g. Theoretically. The scale of recent atrocities is neither temporally bound nor reflective of modern advances in weaponry and technology. This study demonstrates that varying expressions of fashion or construction in contemporaneous graves is reflective of more than differences in social status. According to witness statements by the man responsible for the burial. rather. (d) preventing births. it is not the number of individuals killed that defines genocide but the intent of those committing the act.128 Current Anthropology Volume 49. time-since-death estimates.) event. three highranking soldiers and a local civilian. The seemingly preferential treatment of the one soldier was not reflective of his rank. showing the orderly placement of the individuals within the burial. (c) deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about destruction. more than 30 mass inhumations have been reported in the American Southwest. (b) causing serious bodily harm. and time) and agent of burial rather than the social status of the deceased. investigators rely on artifacts such as expiration dates on medicine or food packaging. Cannon 2005. February 2008 Figure 1. the first body (a soldier) was interred in a full coffin. reliance on artifacts and material culture to establish temporal horizons is a well-established practice in archaeology. they date to approximately AD 950–1300 (Darling 1999). following which the power had been turned off and the remaining bodies were interred in makeshift containers made of wood scraps. In the legal definition of genocide. witness statements. The issue was not one of scale or weapons capability but intent. Bosnia. Mass graves occur throughout the archaeological record in a variety of geographic locations. Archaeologists should not rely on the presence of any one feature—large-scale inhumations. typically classified as Anasazi. each act is recognizable in the archaeological record.

Towton is a village in North Yorkshire. social control (Baker 1994.25 m # 2 m with a maximum depth of 0. Traumatic injury and the presence of ligatures or binding have been cited as evidence of cannibalism (Billman. in 1999. Described as one of the largest and bloodiest of the War of the Roses. To date. 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. 818). Witness statements indicate that bodies were thrown from the top of the cliff and then covered with soil. Turner and Turner 1999).) olence is also common in prehistory. 1461. an express interpretation of genocide has yet to be advanced. mutilation associated with warfare (Bullock 1991). the battle is said to have involved 76. Bosnia. An example of erratic commingling. The remains were erratically commingled. and Leonard 2000. LeBlanc 1999). Verano 2001). nongenocidal contexts” (Hinton 1996. the Yorkist army emerged victorious (Fiorato 2000).000 combatants and 28. The grave was created by Serbian forces at the base of a cliff. England. Fiorato 2000). Two sites—the Towton battlefield in England and the Crow Creek massacre site in South Dakota—will serve to illustrate this. in which a battle occurred on March 29. with individuals deposited prone and . yet “anthropology has been remarkably silent on the topic of large-scale genocide. In July 1996 a mass grave was discovered on the reported battlefield. an omission that is particularly striking because anthropologists have demonstrated the ability to productively explain the roots of violence in other. Holst. In this decisive engagement between the houses of York and Lancaster. and Coughlan 2000. A total of 28 individuals were removed from this clandestine grave in Petrovicka Krivina. It contained either 37 or 38 individuals (Boylston. (Photo used by permission of the Office of the High Representative.65 m. Bosnia. The rectangular grave measured 3.129 Figure 2. ritual sacrifice (Cordy-Collins 2001. Lambert. and witchcraft (Darling 1999).000 casualties (Knusel and Boylston 2006).

interviews with the burial agents revealed that these misallocated elements had been separated from the remains by scavengers and attempts to reassociate the remains. The grave was not located on sacred ground. Extensive evidence of canid scavenging led Willey to speculate that the bodies had remained unburied for several weeks. despite the presence of a nearby chapel. Although subsequent osteological analysis indicated that skeletal elements were incorrectly assigned to several individuals. Disarticulated remains were piled in the fortification ditch with no systematic effort to align elements.130 supine and with heads oriented west-east. Knusel and Boylston (2000) contend that the significance of the burial treatment at Towton extends beyond body placement. contained structures that had been burned and additional human remains (Zimmerman et al. while the third grave contained the skeletal elements of each individual bundled in clothing. Excavations at the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation in South Dakota revealed the remains of nearly 500 adult and subadult individuals. were excavated in 1978 (Willey 1990).and blunt-force injuries. 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. Zimmerman et al. 1990. The assertion that there was “a single cause of death for all: warfare” (Larsen 1984) highlights another important distinction between anthropological and forensic interpretation. 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. indications of binding. 1990). Zimmerman et al. Survivors returning to their villages collected the skeletonized remains of their kin and neighbors and deposited them in mass graves and ossuaries. 1981). 160) were responsible for the burial. raising the possibility of raiders’ having taken young women captive (Willey 1990. and absence of coffins. Bones were accumulated against the north wall of the ditch. February 2008 was noted in 90% of the skulls in all age-cohorts and both sexes (Willey 1982. Willey believed that returning villagers or “otherwise affiliated people” (1982. Prolonged delays in burial. 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’. Comparison with the patterns observed in this study challenges this interpretation. All were males between 15 and 60 years of age (Boylston. the fact that the bodies had their arms behind their backs has been interpreted as evidence of restraints (Sutherland 2000). 1981). Willey 1982. and dismemberment.) The use of the modern Bosnian sample as an analogy for Crow Creek. Of the 22 secondary self-created graves in Bosnia. is problematic. however. 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. The bodies had been deposited in an open fortification ditch and covered with a layer of clay and village midden. Number 1. Trauma and mutilations were evident in virtually all individuals. The possibility of other burial locations in the village has been raised (Kivett and Jensen 1979. and Coughlan 2000) with evidence of multiple sharp. though sincere. All secondary deposits that were self-created contained fewer than 10 individuals. 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. 1990. Craniometric and discrete-trait analysis showed that the decedents were most closely related to Arikara (Willey 1982. possibly a secondary deposit of bones found after the initial burial or the remnants of disturbance of the primary burial by scavengers (Willey 1990). 1990). they were covered with a thin layer of clay. The associated village. 1981). 41) for the decedents. clothing. Few artifacts were recovered. had the bodies been buried by the enemy. Evidence to support this interpretation includes erratic commingling of individuals. A layer of scattered bones was discovered above the principal bone bed. Young adult females and old adult males were underrepresented among the victims. All these features argue strongly for other-creation of the burial. and no kin distinctions were made in the placement of the skulls (Willey 1982. the deposits are organized by skeletal element with purposeful placement of long bones and the orderly arrangement of skulls. Current Anthropology Volume 49. grave markings. dating to approximately AD 1325. Holst. were seen in both self. calculated to be 60% of the village population. and personal effects. While a secondary burial with an MNI of 460 is included in the sample. 1981). “one might assume even less respect” (p. Zimmerman et al. as well as bluntforce trauma to the head.and other-generated burials in Bosnia. the pattern is consistent with that of the other-produced graves of the present study. Sutherland considers the erratic body positions as an attempt to reduce labor on the part of the burial detail and argues that. Scalping. (No secondary deposits were included in the sample from Iraq. Despite the number of individuals. and north-south (Sutherland 2000). were made without any advanced knowledge of anatomy. exposing the surface-deposited remains to weather and scavengers. A more appropriate recent example may be the mortuary practices seen in Rwanda following the genocide in 1994. decapitation. Preserved sites such as Nyamata and the massacre of over 5. Once the bones were deposited. it represents an other-created burial. only 3 involved any commingling of elements among multiple individuals. This contradicts Willey’s (1990) contention that sys- . and the bodies appeared to have been stripped of clothing and armor prior to burial (Burgess 2000). east-west.000 individuals at the Ntarama Church contain collections of osteological remains representing hundreds or thousands of decedents. Although no ligatures were recovered. The remains of at least 486 individuals. Although prior studies have judged these burials self-created (Sutherland 2000) or of undetermined agency (Knusel and Boylston 2000).

g. in which the decedent is named. P. . Studies of mortuary practices associated with modern conflict can illuminate the practices of the past. Genocide is not a modern phenomenon. Leonard.. he was merely the catalyst for its legal definition. Bloch. 50) argues that the use of the word “genocide” is a moral act: to employ the term is to condemn the murderer. the patterns seen in this study suggest. to issues of ethnic. “the functions of the village as a social unit. Coughlan. traditional warfare. but much common ground remains. Knusel. A reappraisal of Anasazi cannibalism. Distinguishing “self ” and “other”: Anthropology and national identity in former Yugoslavia. The patterns revealed by these studies. begins with attributing acts to self or other. Bullock. The accurate interpretation of violence requires differentiating acts of genocide from warfare and other forms of conflict. Introduction: Death and the regeneration of life. 1–44. and the inclusion of women. ed.131 tematic deposition within the Crow Creek grave was impossible because of the skeletal condition of the remains. where. M. Bloch and J. indications of social inequality among groups. and J. linked to the agent of burial by the witness statements and photographic documentation available for contemporary examples.. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. that the Crow Creek burial was other-generated. Utah. Establishing evidence of genocide. Oxford: Oxbow Books. The question remains whether this reflects a true absence of genocide in prehistory or merely our inability to recognize it. mass inhumations. References Cited Baker. Following the massacre. they present evidence of an escalation of violence that had many of the hallmarks of modern genocide: geographic concentration of previously dispersed populations. M. as do legal and anthropological concepts of genocide and cause of death. on balance. 1991. Even genocide is not universally taboo. the evidence argues for its inclusion as a potential explanation for the patterns of violence described. 1990]) or thereafter (Kivett and Jensen 1976). warfare. In Blood red roses: The archaeology of a mass grave from the battle of Towton AD 1461. 2005. the subsequent occupation of Crow Creek is relevant. sociopolitical or religious stresses. 2000. B. Acknowledgments I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers of an early draft of this manuscript. 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. the burial cannot be reasonably attributed to either group on this evidence alone. M. M. raiding. children. Cannibalism. 2000. A. 1982. Lambert. P. To understand why genocide occurs. 160). and the elderly among the victims. American Antiquity 65: 146–78. racial or religious identity. Kuckelman. 1994. 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. While Willey’s interpretation of the agent of burial cannot be refuted. national. and C. Parry. conflict. large-scale attacks. Physical anthropology. including the eradication of villages. extensive evidence of perimortem violence and trauma. This extends beyond forensic notions of personal or positive identification. Human remains were left in some of the village lodges (Willey 1990. Lightfoot. Boylston. 45–59. Anthropology Today 21:8–13. L. Blue Mountain Shadows 13: 30–41. sacrifice. we must first recognize when. Finally. because the secondary burials in this study were often created by returning inhabitants. Evidence of violence. and to the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia for permitting publication of the photographs.. and J. Billman. Boylston. A. A. 157).D. Both anthropological and legal inquiries seek to understand violence and human behavior in the cultural context in which it occurs. R.” Challenging prior interpretations of the violence as evidence of cannibalism. and Martin (2000. Y. Hitler did not invent it. Semujanga (2003. capital punishment. while failure to use it implies “killing done in legitimate defense.” Some of the most profound insights into human nature are revealed in our darkest deeds. Fiorato. and drought in the Mesa Verde region during the twelfth century A.. have argued that “the trends were probably the result of factors common across the region—such as environmental. S. friend or foe. While they do not suggest an interpretation of genocide. in a court of law or in the archaeological record. self-defense) versus killing that violates social standards (such as murder) remain culturally and temporally specific. Conclusion Archaeological and forensic excavation strategies differ (Hoshower 1998). Boskovic. been interpreted as genocide. In Death and the regeneration of life. in their survey of changing patterns of violence in the Northern San Juan region between AD 900 and 1300. Holst. 160). The question of cannibalism and violence in the Anasazi culture: A case study from San Juan Country. whose insightful comments greatly improved this paper. suggesting that neither the victims nor the perpetrators occupied the village immediately after the raid. Parry. ed. to date. can help support the inferences about intent that are essential to interpreting evidence of violence in the archaeological record. a fortress and a home ended” (Willey 1990. Kiva 57:5–16. and mass death in the archaeological record has not. and B. A. and how it occurs. V. Notions of socially acceptable forms of killing (e. or witchcraft and building on hypotheses of conflict for the purposes of intimidation and social control.

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