In the Catholic areas of Europe, the human remains (both their bones and the fabrics they touched) of persons considered to have been exceptional are usually stored for transformation into relics. The production and the reproduction of the object-relic takes place within monasteries and is carried out firstly on the material level. In this article I intend to present in detail, from an anthropological standpoint, the practices used to process such remains, the role of the social actors involved and the political-ecclesiastical dynamics connected with them. Owing to obvious difficulties in accessing enclosed communities, such practices are usually overlooked in historiographical and ethno-anthropological analyses, while they should instead be considered the most important moment in the lengthy process intended to give form and meaning to remains, with a view to their exhibition and use in ritual.
Florence Carré, Aminte Thomann, and Yves-Marie Adrian
In Normandy, near Rouen, in Tournedos-sur-Seine and Val-de-Reuil, two adult skeletons thrown into wells during the Middle Ages have been studied. The wells are located at two separate sites just 3 km apart. Both sites consist of clustered settlements inhabited from the seventh to the tenth century and arranged around a cemetery. The backfill of the well shafts contains animal remains, but also partially or completely articulated human bodies. In Val-de-Reuil, the incomplete skeleton of a man, probably representing a secondary deposition, had traces of a violent blow on the skull, certainly with a blunt weapon. In Tournedos-sur-Seine, a woman thrown in headfirst had several impact points and bone fractures on the skull that could have been caused by perimortem mistreatment or a violent death. After a detailed description of the two finds and a contextualisation in the light of similar published cases, we will discuss the possible scenarios for the death and deposition of the individuals as well as their place in their communities.
Adrien Douchet, Taline Garibian, and Benoît Pouget
The aim of this article is to shed light on the conditions under which the funerary management of human remains was carried out by the French authorities during the early years of the First World War. It seeks to understand how the urgent need to clear the battlefield as quickly as possible came into conflict with the aspiration to give all deceased an individualised, or at the very least dignified, burial. Old military funerary practices were overturned and reconfigured to incorporate an ideal that sought the individual identification of citizen soldiers. The years 1914–15 were thus profoundly marked by a clash between the pragmatism of public health authorities obsessed with hygiene, the infancy of emerging forensic science, the aching desire of the nation to see its children buried individually and various political and military imperatives related to the conduct of the war.
The case of the management of the dead related to COVID-19
This article studies one of the humanitarian challenges caused by the COVID-19 crisis: the dignified handling of the mortal remains of individuals that have died from COVID-19 in Muslim contexts. It illustrates the discussion with examples from Sunni Muslim-majority states when relevant, such as Egypt, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco and Pakistan, and examples from English-speaking non-Muslim majority states such as the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada and Australia as well as Sri Lanka. The article finds that the case of the management of dead bodies of people who have died from COVID-19 has shown that the creativity and flexibility enshrined in the Islamic law-making logic and methodology, on the one hand, and the cooperation between Muslim jurists and specialised medical and forensic experts, on the other, have contributed to saving people’s lives and mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Muslim contexts.
Until the beginning of the twentieth century, in the Kabye country, some heads of enemies – those of men foreign to the group – were buried in a mound of earth referred to as hude, meaning ‘manure’. In each locality, this mound is situated inside a wooded sanctuary where the spirit of the mythical founding ancestor resides. In order to understand this practice, this article examines how it fitted within the overall logic of the male initiation cycle, contextualising it in relation to past and present practices. Because it was a highly ambivalent element of the bush, the head of an enemy renewed the generative power of this original ‘manure’ prodigiously, so as to ensure the group’s survival in their land. The burial of the heads of strangers appears to be an initiatory variant of other forms of mastery of the ambivalence of wild forces, entrusted in other African societies to the chief and his waste heap.
The Tomašica mass grave and the trial of Ratko Mladić
This article focuses on the judicial consideration of the scientific analysis of the Tomašica mass grave, in the Prijedor municipality of Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Often referred to as the largest mass grave in Europe since the Second World War, this grave was fully discovered in September 2013 and the scientific evidence gathered was included in the prosecution of Ratko Mladić before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Based on the exhaustive analysis of all the publicly available trial transcripts, this article presents how the Tomašica evidence proved symptomatic of the way in which forensic sciences and international criminal justice intertwine and of the impact of the former over the latter on the admissibility of evidence, the conduct of proceedings and the qualification of the crimes perpetrated.