ASA09: Anthropological and archaeological imaginations: past, present and future
Bristol, UK

(P37)
Healing wounds, working together: archaeologists and social anthropologists in the study of traumatic events of the past
Location Arch & Anth M1
Date and Time 9th April, 2009 at 09:30

Convenor

Aitzpea Leizaola (University of the Basque Country) aitzpea.leizaola@ehu.eus
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Short Abstract

Traumatic events from contemporary history have challenged the long term breach between social anthropology and archaeology. All over the world the exhumation of mass graves has become a common ground for archaeologists and social anthropologists, in a task linked with the defence of human rights.

Long Abstract

Traumatic events from contemporary history have unexpectedly challenged the long term breach between social anthropology and archaeology. In this sense, exhumations of mass graves have opened a common ground archaeologists and social anthropologists share with forensic anthropologists.

Opened up following the demands of relatives, human rights movements, national or international commissions such as the Commissions for Truth, Reparation and Justice, these exhumation processes raise questions about the relationship between these disciplines and their respective tasks, purposes and positions, concerning methodological, ethical and theoretical issues.

In the last decades, archaeologists and forensic anthropologists have collaborated with human rights organizations, putting their scientific knowledge to their service. Social anthropologists have later joined them, collecting evidences and/or working on sensitive issues such as the construction and transmission of collective memory and the political implications involved. However, the gap between disciplines is not always easy to bridge. Finding physical evidences is not always possible; furthermore it is sometimes not considered the only legitimate action.

This panel aims to raise theoretical and ethnographical issues related to the practice of each discipline in such emotionally charged and politically relevant contexts. We thus invite contributions drawn from fieldworks in which archaeologists, social anthropologists and forensic anthropologists work together, such as those on systematic disappearings carried out during dictatorships (as in the cases of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay for example) as well as mass executions and other forms of repression happened in war contexts (such as the the Spanish Civil War, Rwanda or the Balkans).

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Themes of death and survival in Spanish Republican memory: implications for the exhumation of bodies as an investigative paradigm

Author: Layla Renshaw (Kingston University) l.renshaw@kingston.ac.uk

Abstract

This paper draws on ethnographic interviews conducted in two rural communities in the Burgos region of Spain as they underwent the long process of investigation into clandestine mass graves located nearby and containing the remains of local Republican civilians from these communities killed during the Spanish Civil War.

Using the concept of postmemory, developed to describe forms of memory amongst children of holocaust survivors, this paper will focus on the surviving descendants of the dead, who were young children at the death of their male relatives and in many cases were raised by their surviving female relatives. Some informants profess little firsthand memory of their male relatives, making the emotional experience of the exhumation and identification of these relatives potentially complex and ambiguous.

I will consider the degree to which the themes of family survival, female grief, and material deprivation are prevalent in informant accounts of the post war period. The strategies of repression inflicted on these families included extreme gendered and sexual violence against Republican women, and the systematic appropriation of their material goods, causing destitution and dependency. Informant accounts express the trauma inflicted by these strategies, and it is ethically important to find ways to give weight and recognition within the investigative process which centres upon the mass grave and the identification and reburial of the dead. It is politically important that the traumas inherent in endurance and survival under dictatorship, as well as violent death in war, are represented. This paper considers if archaeological approaches can reflect the full spectrum of repression experienced in these communities.

The exhumation sites of Spanish Civil War mass graves: new grounds for interdisciplinary work

Author: Aitzpea Leizaola (University of the Basque Country) aitzpea.leizaola@ehu.eus

Abstract

Since 2000 archaeologists and forensic anthropologists in Spain have been working on the localisation and opening of mass gravesat the request of descendants of people killed during the Spanish Civil War or Franco's dictatorship. The work of these professionals has been essential to bring to light the scope of Francoist repression. It has helped to ground a discourse on what has been called the Memoria Histórica - referring to the memory of the repression during the War and its aftermath. Social anthropologists have later joined them professionals in this task, collecting evidences and/or working on sensitive issues such as the construction and transmission of collective memories and the impact of such processes in contemporary politics.

However, the gap between disciplines is not always easy to bridge. Finding physical evidences is not always possible. At some point, the exhumation itself can become the target of bitter and highly emotional debates. Thus, exhumations raise questions about the relationship between these disciplines and their respective tasks, purposes and positions, including methodological, ethical and theoretical issues. Whereas the task of archaeologists and forensic anthropologists is socially well known and accepted, the role of social anthropologists is not so clearly cut.

Drawing from fieldwork carried out in several exhumation sites of mass graves from the Spanish Civil War, this paper aims to focus on the way this collaboration is considered by professionals from both disciplines.

The politics of absence: diverging perspectives on the identification of victims in the movement of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, Argentina

Author: Victoria Goddard (Goldsmiths College, University of London) v.goddard@gold.ac.uk

Abstract

In 1986, the movement of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo in Argentina split into two groups, the Founders and the Association. Arguably, although the split responded to a number of differences regarding the central aims of the movement, it was the disagreement over identification and burial of the disappeared victims of the dictatorship that caused the deepest rifts in the movement.

The paper will explore how different responses to the possibility of a reliable identification of exhumed bodies elicited, or generated, different notions of morality, value, politics and relations with the state. Whereas one group of Mothers recognizes the 'inalienable' right of a mother to bury her child, another group argues for the moral value of collective responses, arguing for the 'socialization' of loss. The paper will suggest that these different perspectives reflect different notions of the public and private and also inform different political strategies and projects.