Archaeology and Heritage

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Eaten by maggots

The sorry tale of Mr Fuller’s coffin

Robert G. Morkot

The paper discusses the acquisition history of a 21st-Dynasty coffin in the Egypt Centre, Swansea, and its associated mummy board in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter. It is suggested that the donor, Robert Fitzherbert Fuller, is to be identified with the 'Mr Fuller' referred to in the travel account of Irby and Mangles, and memoirs of Belzoni. The provenance of the artefacts would thus be one of Belzoni's 'mummy pits' at Luxor, and the material related to that acquired by Fuller's travelling companion, Col. Straton, now in the National Museum of Scotland. Other artefacts belonging to the ensemble's original owner, a Chantress of Amun, Iusemhesumut, are listed. The history of the ensemble since its arrival in the UK reflects changing attitudes in museum practice towards ancient human remains and funerary equipment.

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Ryan Metcalfe

Cereal crops were of fundamental importance to the ancient Egyptians, as evidenced by their integration into society at a number of levels. Mathematical problems were phrased in terms of the conversion of grain into bread and beer, which formed the basis of wages, everyday diet, and funerary offerings. Bread and beer also featured prominently in the practice of medicine, with a significant number of the surviving remedies in the medical papyri including one or more of these in their formulation. One of the only known surviving accounts of a brewing method is found in the Ebers Papyrus, providing an insight into how the ancient Egyptians prepared this important constituent of their diet. Much of the research into ancient Egyptian medicine has focussed on what could be considered active ingredients such as herbs, but were bread and beer used simply because of their convenience and availability, or could they have had a more practical use? Could a prescription for a course of nourishing and bacteriologically clean beer have been sufficient in some cases to effect a recovery, or could it also have fulfilled a role as carrier or dose control mechanism?

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Don Brothwell

While interest was growing during the 19th century on the human remains and mummies being found in Egypt and Sudan, the next century was to see a great expansion of scientific enquiry in relation to archaeological research. Considerable effort over the next fifty years resulted in a massive collection of skeletal data from Pre-dynastic to Coptic times. Since then, new statistical techniques, aDNA and isotope analyses have considerably broadened the research base for these earlier populations. New questions were also asked as regards palaeodemography, and the health status of these peoples. But plenty of research questions remain, including at a biometric, diagnostic and biomolecular level. Some of these questions will be considered further here.

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Susan Martin

In June 1975 a rare opportunity to study a group of ancient Egyptian mummy wrappings was created when The Manchester Museum Mummy Team, led by Rosalie David, undertook the dissection of a mummy in the Manchester Museum collection known as ‘1770’. At the time of the dissection the study of the textiles from this mummy did not feature prominently in the interests of the research team and the wrappings received only minimal attention. The wrappings were, however, carefully stored and retained in the collections of the Manchester Museum; recently these wrappings have been revisited and studied in detail. As a result of this recent work among the 190 units of ‘1770’ textiles recorded and retained by the original research team a largely complete garment was identified. This garment – a simple bag style tunic – will be described and discussed in detail in this paper.

Open Access (free)

Joachim Neander

During the Second World War and its aftermath, the legend was spread that the Germans turned the bodies of Holocaust victims into soap stamped with the initials RIF, falsely interpreted as made from pure Jewish fat. In the years following liberation, RIF soap was solemnly buried in cemeteries all over the world and came to symbolise the six million killed in the Shoah, publicly showing the determination of Jewry to never forget the victims. This article will examine the funerals that started in Bulgaria and then attracted several thousand mourners in Brazil and Romania, attended by prominent public personalities and receiving widespread media coverage at home and abroad. In 1990 Yad Vashem laid the Jewish soap legend to rest, and today tombstones over soap graves are falling into decay with new ones avoiding the word soap. RIF soap, however, is alive in the virtual world of the Internet and remains fiercely disputed between believers and deniers.

Open Access (free)

Sidi NDiaye

This article describes the brutalisation of the bodies of Tutsi and Jewish victims in 1994 and during the Second World War, respectively, and contrasts the procedures adopted by killers to understand what these deadly practices say about the imaginaries at work in Rwanda and Poland. Dealing with the infernalisation of the body, which eventually becomes a form of physical control, this comparative work examines the development of groups and communities of killers in their particular social and historical context. Different sources are used, such as academic works, reports from victims organisations and non-governmental organisations, books, testimonies and film documentaries.

Open Access (free)

T.K. Ralebitso-Senior, T.J.U. Thompson and H.E. Carney

In the mid-1990s, the crime scene toolkit was revolutionised by the introduction of DNA-based analyses such as the polymerase chain reaction, low copy number DNA analysis, short-tandem repeat typing, pulse-field gel electrophoresis and variable number tandem repeat. Since then, methodological advances in other disciplines, especially molecular microbial ecology, can now be adapted for cutting-edge applications in forensic contexts. Despite several studies and discussions, there is, however, currently very little evidence of these techniques adoption at the contemporary crime scene. Consequently, this article discusses some of the popular omics and their current and potential exploitations in the forensic ecogenomics of body decomposition in a crime scene. Thus, together with published supportive findings and discourse, knowledge gaps are identified. These then justify the need for more comprehensive, directed, concerted and global research towards state-of-the-art microecophysiology method application and/or adaptation for subsequent successful exploitations in this additional context of microbial forensics.

Open Access (free)

Andrea M. Szkil

The subject of forensic specialist‘s work with human remains in the aftermath of conflict has remained largely unexplored within the existing literature. Drawing upon anthropological fieldwork conducted from 2009–10 in three mortuary facilities overseen by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), this article analyses observations of and interviews with ICMP forensic specialists as a means of gaining insight into their experiences with the remains of people who went missing during the 1992–95 war in BiH. The article specifically focuses on how forensic specialists construct and maintain their professional identities within an emotionally charged situation. Through analysing forensic specialists encounters with human remains, it is argued that maintaining a professional identity requires ICMP forensic specialists to navigate between emotional attachment and engagement according to each situation.

Open Access (free)

Ernesto Schwartz-Marin and Arely Cruz-Santiago

The article will present the findings of ethnographic research into the Colombian and Mexican forensic systems, introducing the first citizen-led exhumation project made possible through the cooperation of scholars, forensic specialists and interested citizens in Mexico. The coupling evolution and mutual re-constitution of forensic science will be explored, including new forms of citizenship and nation building projects – all approached as lived experience – in two of Latin America‘s most complex contexts: organised crime and mass death.

Open Access (free)

Élisabeth Anstett, Jean-Marc Dreyfus and Caroline Fournet