Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology: A Balance Sheet
On a cold July morning in 1984, a group of young people gathered around a grave at San Isidro cemetery (Buenos Aires, Argentina). They were not alone; a cordon of about 40 policemen surrounded the area. Some women wearing white scarves on their heads looked at the scene with anguish. Silence was broken by their cries, the sound of cameras clicking, and the police radio that – every now and then – emitted mechanical noises.
After 8 years of dictatorship, democracy and the need to find more than 10,000 people who had disappeared at the hands of the military government returned to Argentina. Many of these people’s bodies were buried without identification (as “NN” or “no-name corpses”) in cemeteries all over the country.
The group of young people was confused and frightened. It was made up of archaeology, anthropology and medicine students who had never thought of being involved in such a situation. Democracy was still fragile, nobody knew for sure if it was going to last, and a few months ago the police forces that protected the students at the cemetery had brutally chased them.
Some other people around the grave had never interacted with the students. They were lawyers, judges and police physicians. They used a particular jargon, largely composed of words difficult to understand. An elderly man who did not speak Spanish stood next to these people. Despite the circumstances, he looked quiet and confident. He had invited the students to participate in the exhumation of a desaparecido (a disappeared person). His name was Clyde Snow, a well-known forensic anthropologist from the United States who had come to Argentina to recover and identify the victims of political repression (Snow 1984).
KeywordsLatin American Country Mass Grave International Criminal Tribunal Mechanical Noise Military Government
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