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-

cemetery). presence/absence of evidence of burning. Two graves in Iraq were not fully excavated because of safety concerns. and other forms of body deposition. Analysis of the recovered remains occurred at separate times and locations and.189. the MNI was calculated using duplication of skeletal elements and should be considered a conservative estimate.001). evidence collection.124 Current Anthropology Volume 49. excluding surface deposits. and 3 neutral. Both examples represent conflict among ethnic groups within a single nation and legally defined acts of genocide. consistent with purposeful burning but not cremation. and (3) neutral (third party foreign organization or agency such as the Red Cross). multiple. (2) other or enemy (different ethnic group or opposing armed forces). 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. This number reflects not the total number of individuals associated with each grave but only those recovered. The largest number of individuals with coffins in a single interment was 9.. and mass graves. Significant associations were also found between agent of Table 1. body position in the grave. (b) grave depth and MNI (p ! 0. grave location (urban. 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. 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. Single and multiple/mass graves contained individuals deposited in nontraditional postures (e. blindfolds. The database was then analyzed using the SAS computing program. and the interviewing of witnesses. Tests for associations among variables (table 3) revealed statistical significance in the relationships between (a) grave depth and mode of construction (p ! 0. Categories of burial agents were defined as (1) self or friend (same ethnic group. Coffins were present in 21 graves. A breakdown of decedent demographics for each grave type is provided in table l. rural. Demographic information on the decedents is included where available. and Van Arsdale (2005).g. Further. relative. or gags. or associated army). and (c) body position and MNI (p ! 0. prone or with erratic placement of limbs). Ousley. Results The total number of individuals included in the study was 1. witness statements not corroborated by physical evidence or other witnesses were considered unreliable and excluded. for 340 individuals in 9 graves. skeletal analysis. was noted in 10 individuals (8. All references to witness statements in this study describe interviews conducted with eyewitnesses or participants. grave depth. and the Regime Crimes Liaison Office (a joint venture of the Iraqi Special Tribunal and the U. The results for the 119 graves examined are summarized in table 2. the International Commission on Missing Persons in Bosnia in 2001. presence/absence of a coffin.05. . cremations. The largest of these graves had an MNI of 460 individuals. Data were included only from those graves in which I participated in the exhumation. 33 other. use of natural or preexisting feature). including 15 single graves and 6 multiple graves. presence/absence of a grave marker. sex and age distributions of the decedents. My job responsibilities included excavation and documentation of graves. Only other agents used natural or preexisting features as depositional sites.S. Grave depths varied from ! 10 cm to 1 4 m. Agent of burial was determined from statements by those who performed or witnessed the burial.S. with significance determined by p values ! 0.4%). Number 1. mechanical.001). Tests for association were conducted using chi-square analyses. military investigation resulted in the disturbance of a number of individuals who were not included in the study. This study focuses on single.001). presence/absence of binding. Information on the following variables was collected: site identification. Only 17 of the 119 graves were marked. including members of both the victim and perpetrator groups. method of grave construction (manual. All variables were coded and entered into an Excel database. and primary versus secondary deposition. Pit-testing of one Iraqi grave (NWA2) prior to excavation by a U. minimum number of individuals (MNI) recovered from the grave. presence/absence of clothing or body covering. In cases involving large secondary graves from Bosnia. These interviews were conducted with the assistance of highly trained interpreters. Department of Justice) in Iraq in 2004. Agents of burial included 83 self. Only graves with known agents of burial were included. Evidence of perimortem thermal change. was conducted by other anthropologists. agent of burial.

001 42 0 41 25 8 0 1 2 0 ! 0. and body position.001 19 64 0 33 2 1 ! 0. or religious group (United Nations 1948). enabling the assailant to dehumanize victims. b .6 74 8 0 10 20 3 3 0 0 ! 0. 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. the Nazi targeting of Jews was legally genocide. gags. in whole or in part. In the anthropological literature. ethnic. and deny responsibility for action. plastic Coffins Present Absent Binding. In contrast. 824) describes a “genocidal self ” that emerges during times of conflict. MNI. Violence motivated by differences in ideology.125 Table 2. To fully appreciate the distinction between legal and anthropological concepts of genocide.5 3 0. presence of grave marking. No significant associations were seen between agent of burial and primary and secondary graves or grave location. 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. undergo moral restructuring. For example. with only minimal. evidence of burning. burial and presence of coffin. Secondary graves containing surface remains collected by returning refugees. an understanding of the legal definitions of “motive” and “intent” is vital. while “intent” is the mental resolve to commit the act (Garner 2001). presence of clothing/body cover. “Motive” is the personal justification for an act. Legally. b 10⫹ individuals. become acclimatized to killing. rug. racial. employ euphemisms to mask deeds. gender. grave construction.5 17 87 28 3 1 73 23. political party.01 59 24 0 10 18 5 0 3 0 ! 0. Hinton (1996.85 61 22 26 7 3 0 0. anthropological notions of genocide focus on motivation and behavior. while the simultaneous campaign against homosexuals was not. unintentional commingling of elements. This describes motive rather than intent. presence of binding.001 14 69 0 33 3 0 ! 0.001 n p 118 (construction of one grave undetermined). 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.001 80 3b 0 33 3 0 ! 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.001 0 83 10 23 0 3 ! 0. of a national.5 70. or age does not constitute genocide. Discussion Legal and anthropological definitions of genocide differ. genocide is defined as the destruction.001 0 83 17 16 0 3 ! 0. social status. Lewin (1993) describes generalized genocidal behavior Table 3.

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

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

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

In July 1996 a mass grave was discovered on the reported battlefield. Described as one of the largest and bloodiest of the War of the Roses. Fiorato 2000). (Photo used by permission of the Office of the High Representative. It contained either 37 or 38 individuals (Boylston. mutilation associated with warfare (Bullock 1991). The remains were erratically commingled. yet “anthropology has been remarkably silent on the topic of large-scale genocide. the Yorkist army emerged victorious (Fiorato 2000).65 m. 818). The grave was created by Serbian forces at the base of a cliff. A total of 28 individuals were removed from this clandestine grave in Petrovicka Krivina. and Leonard 2000. In this decisive engagement between the houses of York and Lancaster. Bosnia. in 1999. To date. Traumatic injury and the presence of ligatures or binding have been cited as evidence of cannibalism (Billman.000 combatants and 28. and witchcraft (Darling 1999). Verano 2001). an omission that is particularly striking because anthropologists have demonstrated the ability to productively explain the roots of violence in other. Witness statements indicate that bodies were thrown from the top of the cliff and then covered with soil. Lambert. in which a battle occurred on March 29. 1461.000 casualties (Knusel and Boylston 2006). LeBlanc 1999). nongenocidal contexts” (Hinton 1996. social control (Baker 1994. Holst. ritual sacrifice (Cordy-Collins 2001.25 m # 2 m with a maximum depth of 0. Two sites—the Towton battlefield in England and the Crow Creek massacre site in South Dakota—will serve to illustrate this. An example of erratic commingling. with individuals deposited prone and . the battle is said to have involved 76. and Coughlan 2000. England. Towton is a village in North Yorkshire.129 Figure 2.) olence is also common in prehistory. The rectangular grave measured 3. Bosnia. an express interpretation of genocide has yet to be advanced. Turner and Turner 1999). 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.

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

and C. 2000. as do legal and anthropological concepts of genocide and cause of death. mass inhumations. References Cited Baker.. Acknowledgments I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers of an early draft of this manuscript. Bullock. large-scale attacks. Knusel. begins with attributing acts to self or other. 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 accurate interpretation of violence requires differentiating acts of genocide from warfare and other forms of conflict.131 tematic deposition within the Crow Creek grave was impossible because of the skeletal condition of the remains. and mass death in the archaeological record has not. A. Lambert. M. and the elderly among the victims. the patterns seen in this study suggest. 2000. warfare. M. The question of cannibalism and violence in the Anasazi culture: A case study from San Juan Country. 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Leonard. while failure to use it implies “killing done in legitimate defense. the burial cannot be reasonably attributed to either group on this evidence alone. Cannibalism. to issues of ethnic. Holst. 1982. ed.. Billman. and drought in the Mesa Verde region during the twelfth century A. A reappraisal of Anasazi cannibalism. Blue Mountain Shadows 13: 30–41. raiding. we must first recognize when. and Martin (2000.g. indications of social inequality among groups. V. including the eradication of villages. Both anthropological and legal inquiries seek to understand violence and human behavior in the cultural context in which it occurs. friend or foe. 50) argues that the use of the word “genocide” is a moral act: to employ the term is to condemn the murderer. the subsequent occupation of Crow Creek is relevant. Boylston. A. in which the decedent is named. 1990]) or thereafter (Kivett and Jensen 1976). Parry. A. Boskovic. 160). In Blood red roses: The archaeology of a mass grave from the battle of Towton AD 1461. 2005. traditional warfare. where. in their survey of changing patterns of violence in the Northern San Juan region between AD 900 and 1300. This extends beyond forensic notions of personal or positive identification. B. suggesting that neither the victims nor the perpetrators occupied the village immediately after the raid. Notions of socially acceptable forms of killing (e. P.. Studies of mortuary practices associated with modern conflict can illuminate the practices of the past. Following the massacre. L. While Willey’s interpretation of the agent of burial cannot be refuted. A. on balance. conflict. 1991. 45–59. and J. Boylston. Conclusion Archaeological and forensic excavation strategies differ (Hoshower 1998). 1–44. self-defense) versus killing that violates social standards (such as murder) remain culturally and temporally specific. P. can help support the inferences about intent that are essential to interpreting evidence of violence in the archaeological record. national. 160). 1994. Parry. In Death and the regeneration of life. ed. racial or religious identity. but much common ground remains. “the functions of the village as a social unit.” Some of the most profound insights into human nature are revealed in our darkest deeds. The patterns revealed by these studies. linked to the agent of burial by the witness statements and photographic documentation available for contemporary examples.” Challenging prior interpretations of the violence as evidence of cannibalism. and to the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia for permitting publication of the photographs. extensive evidence of perimortem violence and trauma. Anthropology Today 21:8–13. and J. 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