In 2004, the remains of two First World War US soldiers from France were delivered to the US Government for identification and burial. One set of remains was identified and buried, and the other went into a cold-case status. In 2019, the second individual was identified using multiple lines of evidence. The possible individuals that could be associated with the remains were reduced based on material evidence recovered with the remains and the spatiotemporal historical context of the remains. The First World War personnel records then offered sufficient biometric criteria to narrow the possible individuals associated with the second recovered individual to one person, Pfc. Charles McAllister. A family reference DNA sample from a direct matrilineal descendant of the individual added statistical weight to the identification, although the mtDNA was not a decisive or necessary factor in the identification. Due to bureaucratic reasons, the legal identification of Pfc. Charles McAllister is still pending.
The extremely high death rates in northern Italy during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic called for exceptional rules and suspension of funeral practices and burial rites. Additionally, forms of collective burial, typical of a wartime scenario, and mechanical methods and timing were reintroduced into the handling of corpses. Although several academic studies have highlighted how the absence of funeral ceremonies and ‘dignified burials’ has caused prolonged and deep suffering for the mourners and for many of the caregivers and health workers, few have so far focused on funeral workers. This article focuses on the intimate, emotional and ethical experiences of a group of funeral workers in northern Italy who handled COVID corpses and had to take the place of the mourners at the time of burial. Through an anthropological analysis of their oral memories, this work attempts to analyse their expressions of discomfort, frustration, fear and suffering.
Since the sixteenth century, artistic anatomy – a branch of medical science subordinated to the Fine Arts – has understood itself as a comparative investigation halfway between forensic dissection and the analysis of classical art and live bodies. Its teaching was first instituted in Italy by the 1802 curriculum of the national Fine Arts academies, but underwent a drastic transformation at the turn of the century, as the rise of photography brought about both a new aesthetics of vision and an increase in the precision of iconographic documentation. In this article I will attempt to provide a history of the teaching of this discipline at the close of the nineteenth century within the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan, with a focus on its ties to contemporary French practices. Drawing on archival materials including lesson plans, letters and notes from the classes of the three medical doctors who subsequently held the chair (Gaetano Strambio, Alessandro Lanzillotti-Buonsanti and Carlo Biaggi), I will argue that the deep connections between their teaching of the discipline and their work at the city hospital reveal a hybrid approach, with the modern drive towards live-body study unable to wholly supplant the central role still granted to corpses in the grammar of the visual arts.
Osteological collections are key sources of information in providing crucial insight into the lifestyles of past populations. In this article, we conduct an osteobiographical assessment of the human remains of fourteen Selk'nam individuals, which are now housed in the Department of Anthropology, Natural History Museum Vienna, Austria. The aim is to bring these individuals closer to their communities of origin by using non-invasive methods aimed at rebuilding their biological profiles (i.e., age-at-death, biological sex and health status), adding to these with results from provenance research. This way, the human remains were assigned a new identity closer to their original one, through a process that we call ‘re-individualisation’. This is especially significant since it must be assumed that the individuals were exhumed against their cultural belief system. We conclude that building strong and long-lasting collaborations between Indigenous representatives and biological anthropologists has a pivotal role in research for reappraising Indigenous history.
Museums are places characterised by collecting objects, displaying them for public education and also subjecting their collections to research. Yet knowledge can not only be created by using the collection for research. The history of a collection can also be reconstructed, albeit mostly in a fragmentary way. This is important when there is evidence that the collection was acquired in a colonial context, when the collection contains human remains and more so if these were taken from Indigenous peoples. Reconstructing the history of a collection can assist source communities in strengthening their identities and help to regain lost knowledge about their ancestors. This study analyses the provenance of fourteen crania and calvaria of the Selk’nam people from Tierra del Fuego, stored at the Department of Anthropology, Natural History Museum Vienna. Additionally, the significance of these results and their meaning for today’s Selk’nam community Covadonga Ona will be contextualised within the framework of colonial history and museum systems.
The UK National Crime Agency and, concomitantly, tabloid and media reports, have long named Albanian migrants from the wider Western Balkan region as a leading ethnic group responsible for serious and organised crime. Most recently, ethnic Albanians have been identified as populating the most violent gangs, controlling the cocaine and human trafficking market and fuelling rising knife crime in the capital. As a social anthropologist specialising in Albanian cultures and societies since the late 1980s and directing an academic consultancy company, Anthropology Applied Ltd from 2003 to 2013, I have often been asked to provide cultural expertise in UK immigration proceedings regarding Albanian crime victims’ return situation. I have also been approached by different police forces in cases involving alleged homicide and violent crimes committed in the UK. The instructions included a request to explain how ‘kanun’ traditions, usually understood as ethnically specific ancient Albanian customary law, informed the deeds in question. This contribution critically interrogates the underpinning assumptions of such requests and explores the scope for providing theoretically and ethnographically informed cultural expertise to the police in such cases. Without denying specific repositories of cultural knowledge and often hidden yet distinct socio-cultural continuities, it emphasises the ways in which shifting geo-political and other factors have shaped offenders’ social obligations, thereby informing their rationale, agency and strategy, identity constructions and defence in discursive recourse to ‘kanun’. It emerges that externally applied, stereotypical labels in terms of kanun culture can become a self-fulfilling prophecy in supporting criminal identities, rather than explaining their root causes.
This contribution is based on reflections from a seminar entitled, ‘Approaching foreign milieus’, which was jointly led by the two authors, combining the training of young police officers, and a seminar on ethnographic methods for young BA students in 2019. Translation work featured in a number of ways in this seminar. First, translation between the methods of policework and the ethnographic methods of African Studies/Anthropology formed much of the content throughout the seminar. Second, the main task for seminar participants was to translate their interests in learning about foreign milieus into actual questions that could be asked to interlocutors. Third, translations took place between the ‘working cultures’ of the applied police training setting and the academic university setting. A fourth level of translation is proposed indirectly, which is a more comparative perspective on differing international police practices and strategies. This chapter includes the results of trying out methods in practical exercises, an analysis of interactions between students of different backgrounds, as well as their interactions with one another. While most participants realised that the foreign milieus were much more heterogeneous than they initially anticipated, they also discussed the similarities and differences between ethnographic work and police routines. The chapter thus addresses key issues about the relationship between practice and theory, interviewing and observing, and distance and closeness. The chapter reflects on the multiple roles played by observers, researchers, police, and their diverse interlocutors, and concludes with some ideas about how to improve joint training courses in the future.
This chapter focuses on the experiences of powerlessness among police detectives in a global world. Specifically, it discusses how Danish detectives often feel that certain foreign national criminals get away with their crimes with impunity – here not necessarily meaning that criminals are not caught and sentenced. Rather, what increasingly frustrates Danish detectives are their experiences of how even convicted foreign national criminals do not seem to think of their conviction as a real form of punishment, as something which is painful or problematic. To the detectives, such unaffectedness troubles not only the intended deterrent aspects of the law and the criminal justice system, it also comes off as a professional provocation – as a sad symbol of how all their work is, in the end, futile. As the chapter goes on to describe, this futility, this police impotence, sometimes becomes a catalyst in the police applying their own sort of ‘street justice’, to make sure that punishment is not only formally handed down but also truly experienced as such by the foreign national criminal. And as the chapter concludingly ponders, such Dirty Harry-style practices may indeed be on the rise in an increasingly globalising world of crime and policing. As not only Danish detectives but police officers worldwide experience that criminals from other places and parts of the world appear unstirred by the threat and force of the criminal justice system, there is a growing risk of the police taking the delivery of punishment into their own hands.