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 Politics of Information and Analysis in Food Security
Daniel Maxwell and Peter Hailey
Famine means destitution, increased severe malnutrition, disease, excess death
and the breakdown of institutions and social norms. Politically, it means a
failure of governance – a failure to provide the most basic of
protections. Because of both its human and political meanings,
‘famine’ can be a shocking term. This is turn makes the analysis
– and especially declaration – of famine a very sensitive subject.
This paper synthesises the findings from six case studies of the analysis of
extreme food insecurity and famine to identify the political constraints to data
collection and analysis, the ways in which these are manifested, and emergent
good practice to manage these influences. The politics of information and
analysis are the most fraught where technical capacity and data quality are the
weakest. Politics will not be eradicated from analysis but can and must be
The search and rescue of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants on the
Mediterranean has become a site of major political contestation in Europe, on
the seas, in parliaments and government offices and in online public opinion.
This article summarises one particular set of controversies, namely, false
claims that the non-government organisations conducting such search and rescue
operations are actively ‘colluding’ with people smugglers to ferry
people into Europe. In spring and summer 2017, these claims of
‘collusion’ emerged from state agencies and from anti-immigration
groups, became viral on social media platforms and rapidly moved into mainstream
media coverage, criminal investigations by prosecutors and the speech and laws
of politicians across the continent. These claims were in turn connected to
far-right conspiracy theories about ‘flooding’ Europe with
‘invaders’. By looking at the experience of one particular ship,
the MV Aquarius, run in partnership by MSF and SOS
Méditerranée, the authors detail the risks that humanitarian
organisations now face from such types of disinformation campaign. If
humanitarian organisations do not prepare themselves against this risk, they
will find themselves in a world turned upside-down, in which their efforts to
help people in distress become evidence of criminal activity.
A Belated but Welcome Theory of Change on Mental Health and
This article critiques the new Theory of Change (ToC) on mental health published
by the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) in the last
fortnight of its existence. The ToC offers development actors a framework for
better support of beneficiaries with mental health conditions and psychosocial
disabilities – given disappointingly scant attention by the sector to
date. Yet, 70 per cent of mental disorders occur in low- and middle-income
countries (LMICs), with a 22 per cent prevalence in fragile and
conflict-affected states. Globally, mental ill-health is estimated to affect
almost one billion people. Its intersectionality with poverty and physical
health has been brought into sharp focus by the current COVID-19 pandemic which
has magnified the underlying social and environmental stressors of mental
health. DfID’s ToC provides a conceptual framework for improving mental
health globally, with an overarching vision of the full and equal exercise of
all human rights by those affected by mental health conditions and psychosocial
disability. The framework incorporates a rights-based approach with
user-participation embedded in five critical change pathways to outcomes. The
article analyses the ToC, provides an overview, highlights gaps and comments
upon how DfID might have improved clarity for development actors seeking to
realise its vision.