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Deaths and politicised deaths in Buenos Aires’s refuse

The appearance of corpses in rubbish tips is not a recent phenomenon. In Argentina, tips have served not only as sites for the disposal of bodies but also as murder scenes. Many of these other bodies found in such places belong to individuals who have suffered violent deaths, which go on to become public issues, or else are ‘politicised deaths’. Focusing on two cases that have received differing degrees of social, political and media attention – Diego Duarte, a 15-year-old boy from a poor background who went waste-picking on an open dump and never came back, and Ángeles Rawson, a girl of 16 murdered in the middle-class neighbourhood of Colegiales, whose body was found in the same tip – this article deals with the social meanings of bodies that appear in landfills. In each case, there followed a series of events that placed a certain construction on the death – and, more importantly, the life – of the victim. Corpses, once recognised, become people, and through this process they are given new life. It is my contention that bodies in rubbish tips express – and configure – not only the limits of the social but also, in some cases, the limits of the human itself.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
Burying the victims of Europe’s border in a Tunisian coastal town

The Mediterranean Sea has recently become the deadliest of borders for illegalised travellers. The victims of the European Union’s liquid border are also found near North African shores. The question of how and where to bury these unknown persons has recently come to the fore in Zarzis, a coastal town in south-east Tunisia. Everyone involved in these burials – the coastguards, doctors, Red Crescent volunteers, municipality employees – agree that what they are doing is ‘wrong’. It is neither dignified nor respectful to the dead, as the land used as a cemetery is an old waste dump, and customary attitudes towards the dead are difficult to realise. This article will first trace how this situation developed, despite the psychological discomfort of all those affected. It will then explore how the work of care and dignity emerges within this institutional chain, and what this may tell us about what constitutes the concept of the human.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Deposits, waste or ritual remnants?

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
The manifold materialities of human remains

In this article we explore the relational materiality of fragments of human cadavers used to produce DNA profiles of the unidentified dead at a forensic genetics police laboratory in Rio de Janeiro. Our point of departure is an apparently simple problem: how to discard already tested materials in order to open up physical space for incoming tissue samples. However, during our study we found that transforming human tissues and bone fragments into disposable trash requires a tremendous institutional investment of energy, involving negotiations with public health authorities, criminal courts and public burial grounds. The dilemma confronted by the forensic genetic lab suggests not only how some fragments are endowed with more personhood than others, but also how the very distinction between human remains and trash depends on a patchwork of multiple logics that does not necessarily perform according to well-established or predictable scripts.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Burials, body parts and bones in the earlier Upper Palaeolithic

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
Open Access (free)
Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Overriding politics and injustices

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.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal