Book reviews

Zoë Crossland and Rosemary A. Joyce, eds. Disturbing Bodies. Perspectives on Forensic Anthropology (Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press, 2015, 234pp., pbk, ISBN 978-1-938645-55-6).

51hveplvnjl-_sx333_bo1204203200_“At the heart of the volume lies the attempt to highlight the limitations of forensic anthropology, to dismantle the illusion of an objective, straightforward, and universal methodology that can unlock the ‘truth’. In the process, the authors move beyond the materiality of the uncovered evidence, the level where anthropological expertise often stops, tackling those implications which are left unsaid, unquestioned or deemed as being ‘unscientific’ by the community. Dead bodies are indeed disturbing, as the volume’s title points out, and even more so such bodies that have disappeared from history, bodies of victims of political violence — to quote Ewa Domanska, the ‘disappeared body is a paradigm of the past itself’ (Domanska, 2006: 337).”

Published in: European Journal of Archaeology Volume 19, Issue 3, 2016 Special Issue: Special Issue: Mortuary Citations: Death and Memory in the Viking World.

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Christopher M. Stojanowski and William N. Duncan, eds. Studies in Forensic Biohistory. Anthropological Perspectives.  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Hardback, 350 pp. 76 b/w illus., 7 tables. ISBN 978-1-107-07354-8).

jpg (1).jpgWhy should we care if “Abraham Lincoln had Marfan syndrome” or “all the Romanovs were indeed interred in a mass grave near Ekaterinburg” (292), and what should we do when stumbling upon a “Christmas lights skull” in an online auction? A quick browse through media titles from the last couple of years shows that the public and scientists alike do seem to care, so the authors in this edited volume ask back: in what ways do we do that? The famous dead “come with a resume”, as Katherine Verdery is quoted as saying in one chapter from the volume, and indeed even in death not all bodies are equal: some, such as the bodies of famous or contentious figures bear strong postmortem agency, finding themselves in midst of legal, historical or political narratives, and capturing the popular imagination, while others are part of the realm of the many and voiceless dead. This distinction makes the editors of this volume, professors Christopher M. Stojanowski from Arizona State University and William N. Duncan from East Tennessee University, propose a distinct field of inquiry: that of biohistory. The book is an effort to theorise what the authors recognise as an undertheorised field, marked by little cross-citation, but of great importance to scientists and communities alike. The result is an entertaining, and, most importantly, a good piece of academic scholarship, in which the reader is taken from a medico-legal laboratory to a Shakespearean “docu-drama”; from Smithsonian scientists looking into a colleague’s iron coffin to the (literal) ghosts of the American West. In this respect, the book is part of a number of recent volumes focused on the conditions of forensic knowledge production (Crossland and Joyce 2015; Aronson 2016), which aim to dismantle the illusion that this knowledge is a straightforward matter. Instead, they treat it as a cultural phenomenon in its own right, entangled with anthropological and socio-political issues. Such perspectives are not only thought-provoking, but critically and explicitly engage with the causes and consequences of body identification research; this marks an interdisciplinary approach which should gain momentum in the field of human remains research, as it challenges specialists to understand their expertise as part of wider societal networks.

Published in: JCA Book Reviews.

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Marieke M. A. Hendriksen, Elegant Anatomy. The Eightheenth-Century Leiden Anatomical Collections (History of Science and Medicine Library, 47), Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2015, xi + 249 pp.

41bqryog2btl-_sx326_bo1204203200_Two infant hands in jars, lifelike in lace sleeves, hands rising upwards in their phials, one of them holding a flimsy red piece of tissue on a string, the other lifts a vulva tied to a lacy ribbon » (p. 75). Historical anatomical collections often comprise surprising, wonderful or shocking specimens for the modern eye, and it is the task of the historian of science to attempt to understand their creation, use and reception. With this volume, Marieke Hendriksen, a historian of medicine from the Utrecht University, follows in the line of studies concerned with the history and composition of anatomical collections (e.g. Alberti 2011; Hallam 2016; Knoeff and Zwijnenberg 2015)1, but takes an original line of inquiry by focusing on the very materiality of the specimens. Placed at the intersection of material culture studies, history of science, art and philosophy, Hendriksen’s approach aims at shifting the focus of the analysis from the creators of such collections, to the materiality of the specimens in order to answer questions such as why they look the way they do, why they were created in the first place, or how they were viewed.


Curating Human Remains. Caring for the Dead in the United Kingdom. Editat de Myra Giesen, 2013. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 212 pagini.

110772655În ce condiții putem studia, expune, manipula osemintele umane descoperite în contexte arheologice? În calitate de arheologi, antropologi sau muzeografi, ce responsabilitate avem față de ele? Cine are acces, în ce condiții și pentru cât timp?

Published in: Revista de Cercetari Arheologice si Numismatice a Muzeului Municipiului Bucuresti, Vol.1/2015.

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Paolo Liverani, Giandomenico Spinola and Pietro Zander, The Vatican Necropoles. Rome’s City of the Dead. Turhout: Brepols Publishers, 2010. 352 pp., 292 figs., hbk, ISBN 978-2-503-53578-4.

vnrWhen one considers the history of the Roman catacombs one needs to take into account that it is intertwined with the history of Roman funerary beliefs and rituals, as well as with the shaping of the Christian funerary practices and iconography, or with the history of the Catholic Church. From a methodological point of view, other issues come together, such as the problems of excavating and interpreting funerary remains, as well as conservation issues. In this respect, the volume is rather a repertoire of discoveries with occasional critical comments, than a themed oriented synthesis of the results. The discussions on re-presenting and preserving the memory of a person are placed only as commentaries to the various tombs. From the point of view of archaeology, even though the monuments and inscriptions are widely described, the other material remains play a smaller role in the narrative.

Published online: Reviews of Biblical and Early Christian Studies.

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Archaeology, Heritage, and Civic Engagement. Working toward the Public GoodBarbara J. Little and Paul A. Shackel (Eds.). Walnut Creek: Left Coast PressISBN: 978-1-59874-638-9172 pages, 2014.


 Archaeology can de-silence people, places, and stories that have been made to disappear through willful destruction or neglect (Little and Shackel 2014, 136). In short, this quote perfectly summarises the message and goal of this book, to use/view heritage and archaeology as a means to give a voice to people, groups and events that have gotten lost in the midst of history. Written by two American academics from the University of Maryland, the book is an interesting addition to the debate on the role of archaeology and heritage in contemporary society, tackling the heated issues of power relations and struggles, racism, social and economicim balances, confict, and even climate change.
Published in: AP: Online Journal in Public Archaeology.
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