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Pieces of people in the Pavlovian

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.

Open Access (free)
Open Access (free)

Discarding used organic samples in a forensic lab

The manifold materialities of human remains

Claudia Fonseca and Rodrigo Grazinoli Garrido

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.

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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.

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The clandestine cemetery

Burying the victims of Europe’s border in a Tunisian coastal town

Valentina Zagaria

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.

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Trudi Buck, Jean-Marc Dreyfus and Suzanne Schot

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Bodies in the tip

Deaths and politicised deaths in Buenos Aires’s refuse

Mariano D. Perelman

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.

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Eric Pudney

This chapter discusses the growing importance of spirits, and growing interest in precisely what spirits are and how they supposedly interact with the physical world, during the Restoration. This interest in spirits, always of great underlying importance within the debate on witchcraft, enters into this debate more openly during the Interregnum and Restoration periods. A number of dramatic treatments of witchcraft during the Restoration are discussed, many of which bear traces of this increasing interest in the connections between the spiritual and physical realms, and all of which tend to suggest increasing scepticism towards witchcraft. Particularly striking in this regard are the Shakespeare adaptations of Richard Davenant, whose versions of Macbeth and The Tempest exemplify much greater interest in the workings of the spiritual world than Shakespeare’s originals.

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Eric Pudney

This chapter presents the evidence for King James I’s immediate impact on witchcraft plays, arguing that the theatrical representation of witchcraft is much more clearly influenced by demonology after his accession to the throne. The Jacobean period produces an elite mini-genre of witch plays such as Sophonisba, Macbeth, and The Masque of Queens which represent monarch and witch (or witch’s client) as opposites. These plays are interpreted within the context of the court and its concerns. Eventually, however, growing dissatisfaction with the new monarch and his notoriously corrupt and licentious court came to a head with the scandal surrounding the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury. Thomas Middleton’s play The Witch exploited the resulting public outrage in a daring parody of this genre.

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Eric Pudney

The chapter opens with a discussion of Elizabethan attitudes to witchcraft, arguing that a gender gap in credibility between male and female users of magic was something that proponents of witchcraft persecution had to overcome. The supposed absence of witches in Elizabethan drama is discussed, and this perception is ascribed to the way in which female magic users are represented before 1603 – they tend to be modelled on classical witches such as those of John Lyly and Robert Greene or (male) magicians rather than popular ideas about witches. An example of witchcraft without witches is also examined: Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the context of its source, The Golden Asse. Some exceptions to this rule are also examined, and it is argued that the first properly demonological witch to be represented on stage is Marlowe’s Dr Faustus.