In October 2011, twenty skulls of the Herero and Nama people were repatriated
from Germany to Namibia. So far, fifty-five skulls and two human skeletons have
been repatriated to Namibia and preparations for the return of more skulls from
Germany were at an advanced stage at the time of writing this article.
Nonetheless, the skulls and skeletons that were returned from Germany in the
past have been disappointingly laden with complexities and politics, to such an
extent that they have not yet been handed over to their respective communities
for mourning and burials. In this context, this article seeks to investigate the
practice of ‘anonymising’ the presence of human remains in society
by exploring the art and politics of the Namibian state’s memory
production and sanctioning in enforcing restrictions on the affected communities
not to perform, as they wish, their cultural and ritual practices for the
remains of their ancestors.
Sacralisation and militarisation in the remembrance of the ‘cursed soldiers’
Marije Hristova and Monika Żychlińska
Between 2012 and 2017, at the Ł-section of Warsaw’s Powązki Military Cemetery, or ‘Łączka’, the Polish Institute of National Remembrance exhumed a mass grave containing the remains of post-war anti-communist resistance fighters. Being referred to as the ‘cursed soldiers’, these fighters have become key figures in post-2015 Polish memory politics. In this article we focus on the role of the volunteers at these exhumations in the production of the ‘cursed soldiers’ memory. Following the idea of community archaeology as a civil society-building practice, the observed processes of sacralisation and militarisation show how the exhumations create a community of memory that promotes the core values of the currently governing national-conservative PiS party. We found that tropes related to forensic research and typically identified with cosmopolitan memory paradigms are used within a generally nationalist and antagonistic memory framework.
This article describes the brutalisation of the bodies of Tutsi and Jewish victims in
1994 and during the Second World War, respectively, and contrasts the procedures adopted
by killers to understand what these deadly practices say about the imaginaries at work in
Rwanda and Poland. Dealing with the infernalisation of the body, which eventually becomes
a form of physical control, this comparative work examines the development of groups and
communities of killers in their particular social and historical context. Different
sources are used, such as academic works, reports from victims organisations and
non-governmental organisations, books, testimonies and film documentaries.
The display of human remains is a controversial issue in many contemporary societies, with many museums globally removing them from display. However, their place in genocide memorials is also contested. Objections towards the display of remains are based strongly in the social sciences and humanities, predicated on assumptions made regarding the relationship between respect, identification and personhood. As remains are displayed scientifically and anonymously, it is often argued that the personhood of the remains is denied, thereby rendering the person ‘within’ the remains invisible. In this article I argue that the link between identification and personhood is, in some contexts, tenuous at best. Further, in the context of Cambodia, I suggest that such analyses ignore the ways that local communities and Cambodians choose to interact with human remains in their memorials. In such contexts, the display of the remains is central to restoring their personhood and dignity.
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.
Transnational dynamics in post-genocidal restitutions
Taking its starting point from a socio-anthropological study combining
biographical interviews, semi-structured interviews and ethnographic
observations collected between 2016 and 2018 in Germany, France and the United
States among Ovaherero and Nama activists, and also members of different
institutions and associations, this article focuses on the question of human
remains in the current struggle for recognition and reparation of the genocide
of the Ovaherero and Nama from a transnational perspective. First, the text
shows the ways in which the memory of human remains can be considered as a
driving force in the struggle of the affected communities. Second, it outlines
the main points of mismatches of perspective between descendants of the
survivors and the responsible museums during past restitutions of human remains
from German anthropological collections. Third, the article more closely
examines the resources of Ovaherero in the United States in the struggle for
recognition and reparation, the recent discovery of Namibian human remains in
the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the questions that
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.