In this essay I want to discuss the use of archaeological knowledge in the context of providing scientific evidence for legal processes. The discipline used for that is known as forensic archaeology (UK) or forensic anthropology (USA). Furthermore, this essay will explain the role of archaeologists working with cases strongly linked to politics itself, e.g. political mass-killings, using examples where the forensic work led to political debates. It is possible to use archaeological techniques to record data from a crime scene and the surrounding area. The forensic archaeologist might also be able to identify individuals through skeletal remains. What they are looking at in human remains is to produce a biological profile, which consists of i) numbers of individuals, ii) when death occurred, iii) age, iv) sex, v) race, vi) decedent's stature, body weight, physique, vii) signs of old injuries etc., viii) cause of death, ix) manner of death. Cause of death refers to the way in which the deceased died, i.e. gunshot wound, manner of death could be explained as homicide, suicide, accident, natural or undetermined (Snow 1982:104 and Joyce & Stover 1991: 45,52).
Political mass-killings and forensic archaeology in Argentina. Political mass-killings are not a new phenomena, but are probably best known from the last two decades. Clyde Snow was the person to bring forensic archaeology to international attention with his work on the 'disappeared' people in Argentina. More than a thousand people 'disappeared' during the seven years of military regime that followed the coup in 1976. Of course, these people did not just disappear, but they became victims of political murder, carried out by the ruling military junta (Joyce & Stover 1991: 215-305). The numbers of disappeared became known when a group of mothers of disappeared children got together and formed what is now known as las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo - the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, in the early 1980s (Hunt 1988:89-96). The military regime finally ended in 1983 and in December that year Raýl Alfonsžn took office after democratic elections. Within weeks he had changed the bad attitude towards the 'disappeared' people inside the government. He started an investigation into the case of the so called 'disappeared'. Clyde Snow worked in Argentina for the following years, on cases with 'disappeared' people found in anonymous graves in various places over Argentina. The exhumed remains all showed signs of brutal murder. The victims were often taken away from their home at night, by military deathsquads, to the 'grill' were they were tortured and finally shot (or they died before - due to the torture). Then the body or bodies were transported to a morgue where they were buried in graves marked N.N for 'No Names'. The Federal Appeals Court of Buenos Aires opened the trial against nine generals and admirals, who had made up the three successive juntas, on April 22nd, 1985. Two days later, on April 24th, Clyde Snow was called in to testify as an expert witness, to explain how it was possible to identify individuals through their skeletal remains. The trial resulted in convictions and sentences for five of the nine prosecuted. The crimes they were sentenced for ranged from homicide to robbery. This was a victory for human right activists in Argentina and also elsewhere. Finally the cases of thousands of disappeared were treated with respect, and the guilty ones were found and convicted. More work on anonymous graves, or N.Ns, have been carried out after the successful trial and a number of more people were prosecuted for crimes against human rights. This bring hope, but also fear to the relatives of the disappeared. Some relatives are relieved that they finally find the truth, and that they might have some remains of the deceased to have a proper funeral. Others think it is a crime to open up graves, and prefer to live with the hope that their disappeared will be alive, somewhere (Joyce & Stover 1991: 215-305). Argentina is a good example of how it is possible to use archaeological evidence, or evidence found with help from archaeological techniques, in a political context. The victims were killed because they were seen as 'governmental enemies', this context is as political as anything could be. Also the fact that Clyde Snow's testimony actually helped to convict the people responsible for terrible crimes against human rights is of great political interest.
Archaeologists investigate Stalinism and war crimes in ex USSR. In the late 1980s many cases of political mass-killings inside USSR became known, due to the ending of the Soviet Union. It is thought that millions of people were killed during Stalin's years of the 'Great Terror'. A number of mass graves have been found at Kuropaty Woods, not far from Minsk. These graves were exhumed and investigated by archaeologists, and remains from 391 people were found. The remains all showed evidence of execution at the site. The executed were prisoners from a jail located nearby. It was not possible to identify a single person as records of the executions were never made or destroyed years ago. Although, there was one source of information of who the people in these graves were. Some criminal files from the 1950s describes cases of young people who had crossed the border in 1937-38. All of them had been sent to prison and later executed as 'enemies of the people'. This gave a clue about who the people in the graves were, and also who had executed them. More than forty former NKVD personnel were identified to have participated in these mass-killings, some of them had even been sentenced to jail already in the late 1930s. Today most of them are dead of natural reasons. These executioners themselves became victims of Stalinism. The case with the mass-killings was concealed, and all the files destroyed. The NKVD executioners were sent to jail, convicted for 'violation of legality'. The NKVD personnel were sent to jail because 'Stalin did not know what they were doing' and 'why they had carried out the mass-killings'. Of course, that was not true. For sure Stalin had all the information about what was going on at Kuropaty Woods and other places as well. It is thought that some 30,000 people are buried in the 510 presumed graves at Kuropaty Woods, but according to archaeologists, the number is much higher. There are evidence for as many as 900 graves, but some of them are now under the ring road around the forest (Conquest 1989: 239-46).
Archaeological investigations of mass killings were also done in Ukraine, this time by the Australian War Prosecution Team. At the site of Serniki, some 550 people were found in one single grave. These remains belonged mostly to women and children, the only male remains were those from very old men. The majority of the remains showed entry and exit wound of bullets in their skulls, some of them showed signs of having been clubbed. These people were killed in the early 1940s, shot down into the grave. At one end of the grave the remains were in disorder, which would indicate that there might have been panic at that end, where the people waited to be shot. Another Ukraine mass grave is located at Ustinovka. This site was excavated in 1991 by the same team as at Serniki. This grave represent one of the worst war crimes in Ukraine. According to rumours, a hundred adults had been taken away to a waiting grave and shot down into it. When that was done, the rumour says, one fellow asked where the children were. The executioners went back to the town, collected the children and shot them too. A specialist in forensic dentistry had join the team, Dr Chris Griffiths. He was needed if the rumour turned out to be true, as he would be able to age the children through the stages of eruption of the milk teeth and permanent teeth. About twenty children were found in the grave. The oldest was around 12 or 13 years old and the youngest one only six months old. The children were buried in a layer above the adults. So the rumour showed to be frighteningly accurate. The only thing that does not agree between the story and the evidence is the fact that the adults bodies had been covered before the children were shot into the grave. This is known from the 20 centimetres layer of soil between the adults and the children. No Australians were found guilty by the courts after the investigation made by the Australian War Prosecution Team. But the team managed to bring forward new material of three particular episodes (of which two are described here) in the Holocaust that would be hard for anyone to deny (Wright 1995). These facts about Stalinist terror and the terrible mass-killings of innocent people in Ukraine was brought to the public by archaeological investigations. The truth behind these events of mass-killings was known from archaeological evidence, and is very hard to contradict or deny. Although these events took place so long ago that it is difficult to use the evidence to find the guilty people to prosecute them for their crimes. But what is important here is not to find someone to blame, but simply to find out the truth behind some political ideologies.
Massacres in Guatemala - Forensic Investigations. 'Many people forget that in Guatemala we are killed in two ways. One is direct repression, which has taken the lives of thousands of our brothers and sisters, and continue to do so. The other is hunger and poverty. These two are killing Guatemalans every day'. (Rigoberta Menchý 1987) Guatemala is a country were abuses against human rights are a part of the daily life. Between 1980 and 1992 estimated numbers of 100,000 civilians deaths, 40,000 'disappearances' and 440 destroyed villages were recorded. This is all due to political violence in one way or another. According to the government they do not keep political prisoners in any of the country's jails or military bases. No, of course not, the truth is that instead of sending them to jail they kill them. Often in very large numbers at the same time. The indigenous population in Guatemala is treated with major disrespect from the government, and whole villages of indigenous people has been massacred and completely wiped out (Barry 1992). Massacres were carried out by the Guatemalan army on a regular basis. One place where a massacre was carried out was Plan de Sanchez, in the Mayan Highlands. This is a comparatively small village with some 160 inhabitants. In this village the evidence of a terrible massacre was buried. In 1994, Clyde Snow and the Guatemalan team he had set up four years earlier were asked by the government to do an excavation at the site. The government probably felt the pressure for democracy inside Guatemala, and that is the reason why they asked to investigate the truth behind the massacre at Plan de Sanchez. This was going to be the biggest forensic excavation so far in Guatemala. The investigators, all archaeologists, all knew that they were dealing with power politics, it was not only a question of digging up and identifying anymore. The official story of what had happened at Plan de Sanchez said that the victims were trapped and killed in a crossfire between the army and the guerrilla. But the eyewitnesses from Plan de Sanchez have a different story to tell about that day in July 1982. They described how around 60 soldiers came to the village, collected people from their homes, raped the women, tortured probably every victim, and finally killed them. The first thing to do for the investigators was to try to compare the official story with that of the eyewitnesses, and then finally with that of the excavated evidence. The team exhumed the bodies at grave 9, which is only one of 24 mass graves in the village. The grave had four young women and one male child buried in it, said the eyewitnesses. So far the witnesses story seemed to be very accurate. After exhuming the remains, they were brought up to be taken to the laboratory for further examination. That was when the find of another child was made. This child was buried underneath on of the adults, and was not known by the witnesses. In the laboratory, Clyde Snow and his team started to work towards the identification of the dead. All the skeletons from the grave were possible to identify, also the child none knew were buried there. After the identification the team started to look for cause of death. All the skeletons showed signs of brutal torture, such as amputated bodyparts. The team looked for physical evidence that could link the murderer to the crime. Fragments of bullets were found in the skeletons, and these were all from ammunition used by the army, such as these used in M1 and M16. It is known that the guerrilla used Kalashnikov's , and no ammunition from a guerrilla weapon were found. So, if the victims had been caught in a crossfire between army and guerrilla, there should have been signs of ammunition from both sides, but there were not. It seems that the truth is the story known by the survivors. That landowner from a neighbouring village informed the army that there were guerrillas in the area around Plan de Sanchez, which of course, was not true. But as the army destroyed those who could or might give support to the guerrilla, they carried out the massacre. This is Guatemalas Mayan genocide. This does not only happen in Guatemala, it happens everywhere where the government decide that their own people are their enemies. In Plan de Sanchez 110 innocent people were killed because of the governmental policy. There were forensic evidence to prove that a massacre was carried out by the government at Plan de Sanchez. 'They always say that history is written by the winners, but with the help of science, in these cases, sometimes history can also be the truth' (Clyde Snow 1996 BBC prod.). Plan de Sanches was only one of seven villages in the area to be massacred, all over Guatemala these massacres happened regularly (1996 BBC prod.). Guatemala needs international pressure to start looking in to these cases. The government is still abusing the indigenous people, and still carrying out political murderer. Only a month ago the Mayan community leader and human right activist JosŤ Lužs RamÚn was kidnapped, tortured and executed (see LiveZone ref.). More people are in immediate danger for the same reason. The Guatemalan government just does not respect human rights at all, definitely not the rights of their indigenous population and those who work for them.
Conclusion. One of the aims of archaeology is to explain the past, and it should not matter if the past was BC or only last decade. Forensic work in Argentina helped to convict people responsible for mass-killings, carried out by the ruling junta's deathsquads two decades ago. In ex USSR the truth behind a political ideology was found - the Stalinist Terror e.g. mass-killings of innocent people. In Guatemala, however, things are a little bit more complicated. Much more work should be done there so that the government knows that whatever they do to their people, there will always be ways of finding out the truth - through forensic archaeology. We can hope that such work would result in a decline of crimes against human rights and political killings carried out by governments all over the world. I described three different political contexts where forensic archaeology led to political debates, using Argentina, ex USSR and Guatemala as examples. The political role of the archaeologist is hard to define in theses cases. I would prefer just to say that the forensic archaeologist is the person who can find the truth with help from scientific evidence. The truth, in that case, is actually more important than which side in a conflict that carried out the actual crime. That leaves the archaeologist somewhere in the middle, because it is impossible to know in advance exactly what kind of evidence that will be found in, for example, a mass-grave.
References. * Joyce. C and Stover. E. 1991. Witnesses from the grave. London. Bloomsbury Publishing Limited. * Hunt. M.E. 1988. Dead but still Missing: Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Transform Argentina, in Concilium 3, 1988, page 89-96. * Snow. C.C. 1982. Forensic Anthropology, in Annual Review of Anthropology, vol.11, page 97-131. * Conquest. R. 1989. Unearthing the Great Terror, in Orbis 33, page 239-246. * Wright. R. 1995. Investigating War Crimes - The archaeological Evidence. at http://www.soton.ac.uk/~jb3/war/war.html * Menchý. R. 1987. Foreword in Painter. J. 1989. * Painter. J. 1989. Guatemala. False hope-false freedom. London. Latin American Bureau Limited. * Barry. T. 1992. Inside Guatemala. Abulquerque. The Inter-Hemispheric Education Resource Center. * LiveZone, at http://www.livezone.com/maya/alert.html * Traces of Guilt - The dead witness. Produced and directed by Isabelle Rosin for BBC television.