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)

Vaccinating Britain

Mass vaccination and the public since the Second World War

Series:

Gareth Millward

Vaccinating Britain investigates the relationship between the British public and vaccination policy since 1945. It is the first book to examine British vaccination policy across the post-war period and covers a range of vaccines, providing valuable context and insight for those interested in historical or present-day public health policy debates. Drawing on government documents, newspapers, internet archives and medical texts it shows how the modern vaccination system became established and how the public played a key role in its formation. British parents came to accept vaccination as a safe, effective and cost-efficient preventative measure. But occasional crises showed that faith in the system was tied to contemporary concerns about the medical profession, the power of the state and attitudes to individual vaccines. Thus, at times the British public demanded more comprehensive vaccination coverage from the welfare state; at others they eschewed specific vaccines that they thought were dangerous or unnecessary. Moreover, they did not always act uniformly, with “the public” capable of expressing contradictory demands that were often at odds with official policy. This case study of Britain’s vaccination system provides insight into the relationship between the British public and the welfare state, as well as contributing to the historiography of public health and medicine.

Open Access (free)

Series:

Gareth Millward

In this chapter the decline of the routine smallpox vaccination programme is used to examine the theme of nation. While smallpox had been eliminated from Britain in the 1930s, occasional importations by air and sea showed the vulnerability of the nation to external public health threats. Moreover, since the disease often came from postcolonial Commonwealth nations – notably India and Pakistan – racialised views of threats to public health became more common during periods of anxiety about immigration and Britain’s place within the international community. The government attempted to combat declining vaccination rates through publicity campaigns, but struggled to convince the public to comply with its guidance. The public was not anti-vaccination, as shown by the demand for vaccination as a form of epidemic control when outbreaks occurred. However, by showing little enthusiasm for vaccination, coupled with the declining statistical and emotional threat of the disease during the 1960s, the British public helped to create the conditions for the removal of routine childhood smallpox vaccination in 1971 – years before the disease’s official eradication and before other European nations followed suit.

Open Access (free)

Series:

Gareth Millward

This chapter focuses on the example of the inactivated poliomyelitis vaccine (IPV) programme in the 1950s and early 1960s to show how the public expressed demand for vaccination services. On the one hand, the government struggled to raise the registration rate for the vaccine to target levels. On the other hand, parents and the media became increasingly frustrated over a series of supply crises. Some of these were caused by an inability or unwillingness to import American vaccine to cover shortfalls in production by British pharmaceutical companies. Others were caused by surges in demand, such as the rush by young adults to get the vaccine following the death of professional footballer Jeff Hall. Thus, demand was a major problem for the British government. Demanding parents could force policy responses (such as a commitment to import more vaccine). Surges in demand could stress the system to breaking point. But a lack of demand also threatened the Ministry of Health’s wider public health goals. The supply issues were only fully resolved after the introduction of the oral polio vaccine (OPV) in 1962.