Archaeology (Encyclopedia of Science)
Archaeology is the scientific recovery and study of artifacts (objects made by humans) of past cultures. By examining artifacts and how and where they were found, archaeologists try to reconstruct the daily lives of the people of those cultures. Archaeological artifacts can include anything from ancient Greek pottery vessels found at the bottom of the sea to disposable plastic bottles found at modern dump sites. Thus, studies in archaeology can extend from the beginning of human prehistory to the most recent of modern times.
Since the mid-twentieth century, as new laboratory technologies have become available, the number of disciplines or fields of study that are linked to archaeology have expanded. However, the individual field archaeologist tends to focus his or her research on a specific culture or era in time.
Prehistoric archaeology. Prehistoric archaeologists seek to discover and write about the culture of ancient people who left behind no written history. Prehistory has no definite time period, having lasted for different times in different parts of the world. European prehistory ended with the appearance of primitive written languages around 2500 B.C. American prehistory, on the other hand, came to a close only 500 years ago when European explorers visited the New World and began keeping written reports of the people...
(The entire section is 933 words.)
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Archaeology (Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity)
Archaeology is the study of the remains of past cultures, both historic and prehistoric. In archaeological publications the term genocide is rarely encountered. Although it is often possible to determine the cause of death when skeletal remains are well preserved, the reasons why earlier peoples committed violent acts are not always clear. Consequently, interpretations of such actions are difficult and frequently controversial.
Damage to Skeletal Remains
Skeletal material provides the most useful source of information about acts of violence. An examination of skeletal remains first attempts to rule out reasons other than violence that could account for bone breakage. Interpretation of bone damage uses many of the same techniques as modern forensics, and comparative data from studies of present-day skeletal traumas aid archaeologists in determining the cause of death.
The skeletal material that archaeologists uncover may have been damaged postmortem (after death). Taphonomy is the study of the processes that modify bone between the death of the individual and the recovery of their remains. Taphonomic analyses help researchers determine whether an individual's bones were modified in any way postmortem due to, for example, crushing by shifting rocks, human intrusions into the grave, or trampling by large animals prior to burial. Postmortem and perimortem (around the time of death) bone fractures can usually be distinguished from those that occurred before death (antemortem), because antemortem fractures will exhibit evidence of healing. Differentiating perimortem injuries from postmortem damage is more challenging, particularly when the skeleton is not well preserved. In general, a perimortem break has the following features: (1) The bone at the break is of a similar color to that surrounding it, rather than lighter in color; (2) fracture lines radiate away from the break and; (3) the break angles acutely from the surface of the bone inward, rather than at a right angle.
Cause of Death
After deciding that the death of an individual was probably caused by some sort of perimortem trauma, archaeologists then attempt to determine how that injury was sustained. Fragments of weapons embedded within the skeleton provide the clearest evidence of violence against an individual. However, such findings are rare in the archaeological record. In most cases violence must be inferred based on the shape, size, location, and severity of skeletal injuries. For example, cranial (head) traumas caused by axes yield elongated and thin fractures. Most fatal skeletal injuries are located on the cranium, although when injuries result from projectile weapons, such as spears or arrows, they are more likely to be found on the postcranial (below the head) skeleton. Many deadly projectile wounds do not cause damage to the skeleton and, thus, there is no clear evidence of them in the archaeological record. Sometimes cause of death may be inferred when a projectile weapon is found at the burial site. The location of traumas can also provide information about the cause of death. For example, if most cranial injuries are on the frontal (forehead) bone, it is likely that they resulted from face-to-face combat.
In a case where archaeologists are investigating a site to determine if genocide was committed, multiple individuals are generally available for study. Consequently, researchers can search for patterns in the skeletal evidence to help them determine cause of death. If a series of skeletons exhibit injuries of a consistent size and shape, this provides evidence for a similar weapon having been used to kill all the individuals.
A demographic profile of skeletal remains provides archaeologists with the age and sex of the individuals interred. The pelvis is the most accurate source of information; about 95 percent are correctly identified in determining the sex of an individual, with females having a broader, less muscular pelvis than males. When a pelvis is not found among the remains, features of the cranium (e.g., chin shape and muscle markings on the cranium) can be used with some confidence, to within 80 percent accuracy, to ascertain sex. DNA techniques have recently been developed that may provide a more useful means of establishing the sex of fragmentary specimens. An individual's age at death can be established using dental eruption patterns, the amount of wear on the teeth, and the extent to which sutures on the skull have closed. Social status can sometimes be inferred based on how the individual was buried. Burial context may also help in determining ethnic group affiliation, along with DNA data and skeletal information. Analyses of these data may demonstrate that a group was overrepresented at the site (e.g., women or a particular social class) and, consequently, may have been the target of violence. However, the possibility must be considered that the individuals interred at the site were the only ones who were present when the group was massacred or that only they were afforded the privilege of burial.
Genocide in the Archaeological Record
In cases of possible genocide archaeologists must initially attempt to determine whether the population died at approximately the same time. When individuals are interred in the same grave, careful examination of the burial may show whether there was later intrusion at the site, resulting in the remains being buried together. When there is no mass grave, dating methods (e.g., carbon dating) may help resolve whether the death of the population occurred around the same time.
The motivation behind the violent actions of past cultures is difficult to determine. Historical records and ethnographic studies may be useful in suggesting the motives underlying violent behavior. However, these accounts of past events can be colored by cultural biases. Another possible source of data is the method of burial. For example, if individuals are found to be randomly positioned in a grave without the artifacts that usually accompany burials, this suggests that their bodies were dumped without thought to funerary rites. This evidence can be used in combination with data derived from skeletal material and demographic profiles to determine whether genocide was committed.
As of 2003 Ofnet and Schletz remain two of the earliest sites in the archaeological record with credible evidence of genocide. At the Schletz site in Austria, dating back approximately 7,500 years, 67 individuals with multiple traumas were recovered from the bottom of a trench. The demographic profile of the group showed that there were no young females among the dead, suggesting that they had been forcibly abducted by the attacking group. Based on these data, along with the finding that the remains from the site were unburied for many months, researchers argued that genocide was the most likely motive behind the deaths of the population. At the Ofnet site in Bavaria, dating to the same historical period as Schletz, archaeologists located two mass graves containing thirty-eight individuals who were probably buried during a single episode. Many of the skulls of these individuals have cranial fractures of a similar size and shape, indicating a similar type of weapon was used to kill the victims. A detailed analysis of the damage indicated that the injuries occurred perimortem. The demographic profile showed that most, but not all, of the individuals in the grave were females and subadults. David W. Frayer suggests that this indicates that most of the men were absent at the time of the massacre.
Archaeological material other than skeletal remains has occasionally been used to suggest that genocide took place at a particular site. Scorched layers of earth or burned structures may offer indirect evidence of genocide. A study of Roman camps in northern Britain provides an example of how nonskeletal data may be used as evidence of genocide. The placement and size of these camps, formed during the reign of the emperor Severus from 208 to 211 CE, indicated to researchers that the Romans attempted to control or destroy all agricultural products and, consequently, starve the local Caledonian population.
Human sacrifice and cannibalism are other methods by which particular groups have been singled out for violence in past cultures. Victims of human sacrifice can sometimes be identified by the artifacts buried with them, the location of their burial, or the nature of their wounds. To recognize when individuals were victims of cannibalism, remains are examined for evidence of postmortem corpse manipulation. Cut marks on bones may signify that the person was defleshed. The skull or postcranial bones may be broken in ways that indicate removal of the brain or extraction of bone marrow. The context in which the bones were found is also important. For example, discovering human material mixed with animal bones in trash heaps is strong evidence of cannibalism.
One of the more controversial cases of possible cannibalism involves the site of Cowboy Wash near the Anasazi dwellings at Mesa Verde in Colorado. Archeologists working at the site recovered human bones that exhibited signs of cannibalism. The evidence found at this site included: cut marks on bones; bones found in trash dumps; bones that were not discolored or pitted, indicating that flesh was removed prior to burial; a breakage pattern on bones, suggesting extraction of bone marrow; and color on some bones, indicating that they were cooked. Some have argued that this evidence does not necessarily imply cannibalism occurred because burial rituals may involve similar postmortem corpse manipulation. However, if the human bones were handled in the same manner as those of large animals, it seems logical to suggest that the humans were eaten. Archeologists have found that cut marks on the bones were similar in style and location to those made on bones of large game animals. Moreover, analysis of a coprolite (fossilized feces) from the site provided clear evidence that human flesh had been consumed there. Based on other data derived from the site, Brian R. Billman suggests that a population moved in and terrorized local communities by killing and eating their victims.
SEE ALSO Ancient World; Forensics
Cox, Margaret, and Simon Mays (2000). Human Osteology in Archaeology and Forensic Science. London: Greenwich Medical Media.
Dold, Catherine (1998). "American Cannibal." Discover 19:649.
Frayer, David W. (1997). "Ofnet: Evidence for a Mesolithic Massacre." In Troubled Times: Violence and Warfare in the Past, ed. D. L. Martin and D. W. Frayer. Australia: Gordon and Breach.
Jurmain, Robert (1999). Stories from the Skeleton: Behavioral Reconstruction in Human Osteology. Australia: Gordon and Breach.
Marlar, Richard A., Banks L. Leonard, Brian R. Billman, Patricia M. Lambert, and Jennifer E. Marlar (2000). "Biochemical Evidence of Cannibalism at a Prehistoric Puebloan Site in Southwestern Colorado." Nature 407:748.
Martin, Colin (1995). "To Scotland Then They Came Burning." British Archaeology 6:124.
Martin, Debra L., and David W. Frayer, eds. (1997). Troubled Times: Violence and Warfare in the Past. Australia: Gordon and Breach.
Stone, Anne C., G. Milner, Svante Paabo, and Mark Stoneking (1996). "Sex Determination of Ancient Human Skeletons Using DNA." American Journal of Physical Anthropology 99:23138.
Teschler-Nicola, M., F. Gerold, M. Bujatti-Narbeshuber, T. Prohaska, C. Latkoczy, G. Stingeder, and M. Watkins (1999). "Evidence of Genocide 7000 BPeolithic Paradigm and Geo-climatic Reality." Colligium Antropologicum 23(2):43750.
Walker, Phillip L. (2001). "A Bioarchaeological Perspective on the History of Violence." Annual Review of Anthropology 30:57396.
White, Tim D. (2000). Human Osteology, 2nd edition. San Diego, Calif.: Academic Press.
Willey, Patrick S. (1990). Prehistoric Warfare on the Great Plains: Skeletal Analysis of the Crow Creek Massacre Victims. New York: Garland Publishing.
Chris A. Robinson
Archaeology (World of Forensic Science)
Forensic archaeologists use archaeological techniques to help solve or study crimes. The term forensic relates to the law, often describing material appropriate for presentation in court. Archaeology is the scientific study of the past through the analysis of materials (artifacts) and remains within their context, or surrounding area. Using a blend of many sciences, forensic archaeologists examine human skeletal remains and other materials to gather physical evidence. Not all sites examined by forensic archaeologists are linked to a crime or a court case.
A forensic archaeologist who is examining a site attempts to gather evidence about the events that took place at that site. They may seek answers to questions such as: who is buried here? Did the person die here or somewhere else? How many people were here? What materials did they leave behind? How old is this site? Is it related to another historical or criminal event? What other activities happened here?
Investigating both recent and historical events, the work of forensic archaeologists aids both law enforcement and historians. When studying historical sites, forensic archaeologists use many of the same investigative techniques as they do when examining present-day crime scenes. Forensic archaeologists have located sites of mass murder in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. They have investigated historical sites associated with the Holocaust. Law enforcement employed forensic archaeologists to investigate the World Trade Center site of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York.
Forensic archaeologists employ in the field many of the same techniques that forensic anthropologists use in the lab. Often, forensic archaeologists work to recover information from the smallest of materials, such as a single hair, tooth, clothing fiber, or bone fragment. Modern medical and scientific investigative technologies aid their research. A forensic archaeologist may use CAT scans or x rays to examine ancient remains, such as mummies, without destroying them. DNA analysis is used to determine if or how remains found in close proximity are related to each other. They study human skeletal remains and teeth for clues about age, sex, health, trauma, and date and manner of death. For example, a forensic archaeologist may examine damage to a skull to determine that the victim died from a trauma to the head. They may even be able to tell what kind of weapon, from an ancient projectile point to a modern gun, inflicted the injury.
Forensic archaeologists also carefully scrutinize the area that surrounds remains. The relationship between remains and the environment in which they are found is known as context. They may use complex remote sensing technologies to look below ground and locate burials or other sites. Alternatively, a forensic archaeologist may use classical archaeological techniques such as using probes to feel for loose dirt, observing patterns of discolored surface soil, or surveying an area for abnormal surface features, like shallow depressions or small mounds.
SEE ALSO Ancient cases and mysteries; Anthropology; Careers in forensic science; Crime scene investigation.