Joachim Neander

During the Second World War and its aftermath, the legend was spread that the Germans turned the bodies of Holocaust victims into soap stamped with the initials RIF, falsely interpreted as made from pure Jewish fat. In the years following liberation, RIF soap was solemnly buried in cemeteries all over the world and came to symbolise the six million killed in the Shoah, publicly showing the determination of Jewry to never forget the victims. This article will examine the funerals that started in Bulgaria and then attracted several thousand mourners in Brazil and Romania, attended by prominent public personalities and receiving widespread media coverage at home and abroad. In 1990 Yad Vashem laid the Jewish soap legend to rest, and today tombstones over soap graves are falling into decay with new ones avoiding the word soap. RIF soap, however, is alive in the virtual world of the Internet and remains fiercely disputed between believers and deniers.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Benoît Pouget

Based on a study of intersecting French archives (those of the Val de Grâce Hospital, the Service Historique de la Défense and the Archives Diplomatiques), and with the support of numerous printed sources, this article focuses on the handling of the bodies of French soldiers who died of cholera during the Crimean War (1854–56). As a continuation of studies done by historians Luc Capdevila and Danièle Voldman, the aim here is to consider how the diseased corpses of these soldiers reveal both the causes and circumstances of their deaths. Beyond the epidemiological context, these dead bodies shed light on the sanitary conditions and suffering resulting from years of military campaigns. To conclude, the article analyses the material traces left by these dead and the way that the Second Empire used them politically, giving the remains of leaders who died on the front lines of the cholera epidemic a triumphant return to the country and a state funeral.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Jose López Mazz

This article will describe the contemporary scientific techniques used to excavate and identify the dead bodies of disappeared detainees from the Uruguayan dictatorship. It will highlight the developments that have led to increased success by forensic anthropologists and archaeologists in uncovering human remains, as well as their effects, both social and political, on promoting the right to the truth and mechanisms of transitional justice.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Burials, body parts and bones in the earlier Upper Palaeolithic
Erik Trinkaus, Sandra Sázelová, and Jiří Svoboda

The rich earlier Mid Upper Palaeolithic (Pavlovian) sites of Dolní Vĕstonice I and II and Pavlov I (∼32,000–∼30,000 cal BP) in southern Moravia (Czech Republic) have yielded a series of human burials, isolated pairs of extremities and isolated bones and teeth. The burials occurred within and adjacent to the remains of structures (‘huts’), among domestic debris. Two of them were adjacent to mammoth bone dumps, but none of them was directly associated with areas of apparent discard (or garbage). The isolated pairs and bones/teeth were haphazardly scattered through the occupation areas, many of them mixed with the small to medium-sized faunal remains, from which many were identified post-excavation. It is therefore difficult to establish a pattern of disposal of the human remains with respect to the abundant evidence for site structure at these Upper Palaeolithic sites. At the same time, each form of human preservation raises questions about the differential mortuary behaviours, and hence social dynamics, of these foraging populations and how we interpret them through an archaeological lens.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
From legal procedures to collective forgetting
Johanna Lehr

This article seeks to show that the bodies of Jewish people who died in the Drancy internment camp between 1941 and 1944 were handled on French soil in a doubly normalised manner: first by the police and judicial system, and then in relation to funeral arrangements. My findings thus contradict two preconceived ideas that have become firmly established in collective memory: first, the belief that the number who died in the Drancy camp is difficult to establish; and second, the belief that the remains of internees who died in the camp were subjected to rapid and anonymous burial in a large mass grave in Drancy municipal cemetery.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Deposits, waste or ritual remnants?
Philippe Lefranc and Fanny Chenal

Among the numerous human remains found in circular pits belonging to the fourth millennium BCE cultures north of the Alps, there are many examples of bodies laid in random (or unconventional) positions. Some of these remains in irregular configurations, interred alongside an individual in a conventional flexed position, can be considered as a ‘funerary accompaniment’. Other burials, of isolated individuals or multiple individuals buried in unconventional positions, suggest the existence of burial practices outside of the otherwise strict framework of funerary rites. The focus of this article is the evidence recently arising from excavation and anthropological studies from the Upper Rhine Plain (Michelsberg and Munzingen cultures). We assume that these bodies in unconventional positions were not dumped as trash, but that they were a part of the final act of a complex ritual. It is hypothesised that these bodies, interpreted here as ritual waste, were sacrificial victims, and a number of possible explanations, including ‘peripheral accompaniment’ or victims of acts of war, are debated.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
France and its war dead in 1914 and 1915
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.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Marie Daugey

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.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Greer Vanderbyl, John Albanese, and Hugo F. V. Cardoso

The sourcing of cadavers for North American skeletal reference collections occurred immediately after death and targeted the poor and marginalised. In Europe, collections sourced bodies that were buried and unclaimed after some time in cemeteries with no perpetual care mandate, and may have also targeted the underprivileged. The relationship between socio-economic status (SES) and abandonment was examined in a sample of unclaimed remains (603 adults and 98 children) collected from cemeteries in the city of Lisbon, Portugal, that were incorporated in a collection. Results demonstrate that low SES individuals are not more likely to be abandoned nor to be incorporated in the collection than higher SES individuals. Furthermore, historical data indicate that the poorest were not incorporated into the collection, because of burial practices. Although the accumulation of collections in North America was facilitated by structural violence that targeted the poor and marginalised, this phenomenon seems largely absent in the Lisbon collection.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Marco Aurelio Guimarães, Raffaela Arrabaça Francisco, Sergio Britto Garcia, Martin Evison, Maria Eliana Castro Pinheiro, Iara Xavier Pereira, Diva Santana, and Julie Alvina Guss Patrício

Truth commissions are widely recognised tools used in negotiation following political repression. Their work may be underpinned by formal scientific investigation of human remains. This paper presents an analysis of the role of forensic investigations in the transition to democracy following the Brazilian military governments of 1964–85. It considers practices during the dictatorship and in the period following, making reference to analyses of truth commission work in jurisdictions other than Brazil, including those in which the investigation of clandestine burials has taken place. Attempts to conceal the fate of victims during the dictatorship, and the attempts of democratic governments to investigate them are described. Despite various initiatives since the end of the military government, many victims remain unidentified. In Brazil, as elsewhere, forensic investigations are susceptible to political and social influences, leading to a situation in which relatives struggle to obtain meaningful restitution and have little trust in the transitional justice process.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal