Open Access (free)

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

Open Access (free)

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.

Open Access (free)

A World without a Project

An Interview with Celso Amorim, Former Brazilian Foreign Minister

Juliano Fiori

In this interview, Celso Amorim, former Brazilian foreign minister, discusses changes in global governance and their likely impact on international cooperation. He critically reflects on his experiences in positioning Brazil on the world stage and democratising human rights. And he considers whether the influence of Brazil and other Southern states is likely to continue expanding.

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When the Music Stops

Humanitarianism in a Post-Liberal World Order

Stephen Hopgood

The modern global humanitarian system takes the form it does because it is underpinned by liberal world order. Now the viability of global liberal institutions is increasingly in doubt, a backlash against humanitarianism (and human rights) has gained momentum. I will argue that without liberal world order, global humanitarianism as we currently understand it is impossible, confronting humanitarians with an existential choice: how might they function in a world which doesn’t have liberal institutions at its core? The version of global humanitarianism with which we are familiar might not survive this transition, but maybe other forms of humanitarian action will emerge. What comes next might not meet the hopes of today’s humanitarians, however. The humanitarian alliance with liberalism is no accident, and if the world is less liberal, its version of humanitarian action is likely to be less liberal too. Nevertheless, humanitarianism will fare better than its humanist twin, human rights, in this new world.

Open Access (free)

Olivia Umurerwa Rutazibwa

This paper questions the extent to which the (arguable) end of the liberal humanitarian order is something to be mourned. Suggesting that current laments for the decline of humanitarianism reflect a Eurocentric worldview, it calls for a fundamental revision of the assumptions informing humanitarian scholarship. Decoloniality and anti-colonialism should be taken seriously so as to not reproduce the same by a different name after the end of the liberal order.