Sunday, November 4, 2007


This blog is meant to be a space for me to relay stories from the grave(site) for those would like to follow along as I practice forensic anthropology in Guatemala under a Fulbright fellowship.

So what exactly is forensic anthropology? Think: bones. Anthropology is the study of the human condition, including physical remnants of human life and culture. Forensics refers to efforts that contribute to legal investigations, although it is most commonly associated with figuring out how someone died. Thus, forensic anthropologists have the unique role of excavating human remains and providing a detailed analysis of the bones for identification of victims and associated legal investigations.

Last week I arrived in Guatemala to spend ten months working with the Guatemala Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG, for its Spanish acronym). The Foundation is a well-recognized forensic institution dedicated to the monumental task of identifying victims of the country’s 36-year civil war, which ended in 1996. More than 200,000 people were killed in the conflict and over 50,000 were “disappeared.” Many of those who lost their lives were indigenous Mayan.

For at least the first few months of my time with the FAFG, I will be assisting in laboratory analysis of human remains. Using clues from different bones of the body, we can create biological profiles that consist of an individual’s sex, height, and approximate age. We then look for evidence of trauma on the skeleton. Keen examination of bone trauma perimortem – at or around the time of death – can distinguish between various types of injury that may have been the cause of death, such as sharp trauma induced by a knife or machete, gun shot wounds, or blunt trauma that would result from bludgeoning.

Many people wonder why it matters that we – quite literally – dig up the past. The short answer, on which I will into go more detail in the future, is threefold: the need for closure for families of the deceased, exposure of the truth of what took place in Guatemala, and justice and reconciliation for a war-torn society. Forensic anthropology, when practiced in such a context, is a science in the service of human rights.


auntlinda said...

I appreciate all three reasons in your short answer and am proud to be your aunt.

James said...

Yeah, sister. The work you're doing is pretty incredible.

Lauren said...

Forensic anthropology, when practiced in such a context, is a science in the service of human rights.

That solid closing sentence is why they awarded you a Fullbright.

Who said...

Forensic Anthropology, Shmorensic Shman-shmo-shmology. We all know you went to Bad-Guate for the Generic Lower Americas Tequila and the Fiery Latino men! Sure, that anthro-po-mography excuse might hold for a while, but at some point he's gonna figure out that he didn't get shot in the pants.

Also, did they wing you at the airport or did they wait for the orientation session? said...

Bajo la luz de la luna danzan los esqueletos...buena suerte en tu busqueda. Voy a Puerto Rico por unos meses...ven y visitame ok.