• Home

Sharp force trauma relating to cultural anthropology

17 Living on the sidelines of death:

anthropologists and violence

alison galloway

17.1 Introduction

One of the most frequent questions I am asked at public presentations on

forensic anthropology is how do I feel about death, having worked in this field

for three decades. I respond by agreeing that exposure to death, dead bodies,

and the consequences of violence has greatly changed the way in which I look

at death. I value how precious life is and how quickly it can be snatched

from us. I also know how desperately people cling to life as we see the

evidence of people fighting to live and undergoing torture prior to their death.

When I was given the opportunity to provide a contribution for this volume,

I sorted through the usual formats such as a case report or results of a research

project. However, as I began writing, the current topic quickly spilled onto the

page. I would attribute that to a number of factors: my own age and consider-

ations of retirement; seeing my students embark on their own careers in

forensic anthropology and bioarchaeology; and the loss of colleagues, family

members, and friends. However, the most powerful factor is the sight of the

many victims whose bodies we have examined and the opportunity we have to

experience, in our minds, their last moments on earth.

The bioarchaeologist and forensic anthropologist experience death across a

wide range of formats. For those of us working on contemporary material, we

often participate in recovery efforts after mass disasters. During these times,

we may see the bodies or body parts within the context of the death. This series

of images is overlain by the sense of shock and dismay felt more broadly by

the community/nation suffering the loss. It is accompanied by the strain of

long hours and loss of our own support environment.

Bioarchaeological and Forensic Perspectives on Violence: How Violent Death is Interpreted from

Skeletal Remains, ed. D. L. Martin and C. P. Anderson. Published by Cambridge University Press.

© Cambridge University Press 2014.


of use, available at https://www.cambridge.org/core/terms. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107051409.022
Downloaded from https://www.cambridge.org/core. University of Central Florida, on 23 Oct 2021 at 19:43:48, subject to the Cambridge Core terms

For osteologists who specialize in examination of violence, we also spend

long hours in the laboratory examining individual skeletons, identifying indi-

vidual instances of damage to the bones, determining the means by which that

damage occurred and when it occurred in relation to the individual’s demise,

and finally determining the sequence of events, if possible, from the remains

and our knowledge of anatomy and human movement. The victims have come

to us from situations in which the cause and manner of death may be unclear –

suicide, homicide, accidental, or natural causes. The body is removed from

the context but this act also exposes the vulnerability of the person. The

cleaned bones are laid out on our table to be scrutinized, photographed, and

documented. Stripped of context, all attention is focused on the evidence

of violence.

In this chapter, I want to examine several aspects of how our examination of

death also points inward. How does this change our own attitudes to death and

dying? I will briefly discuss five specific aspects: (1) the isolation of our

professional lives; (2) the lasting memories that this work produces; (3) the

use of humor, specifically gallows or dark humor; (4) how the remains reveal

information about the killer and how that knowledge is incorporated into our

understanding of human nature; and (5) the potential for post-traumatic stress

disorder (PTSD).

17.2 A professional life in isolation

Anthropologists who deal with death and violence often do so on an erratic

schedule. Forensic anthropologists get cases intermittently – often going long

periods without any work and then having multiple cases arriving within a

week. Thrown into this mix are the fortunately less frequent events of mass

disasters/multiple fatality incidents. These large-scale events may require

many hours of work, often on 10–12-hour shifts, for weeks at a time, with

the rest of one’s life set to the side. Bioarchaeologists are more able to

schedule the field season but not when and how bodies will be recovered.

Often remains are uncovered at the close of a season, making recovery

difficult and with little time to mentally process the more obvious evidence

of violence. Only when remains are transported back to the laboratory do we

have a chance to examine cases more closely. This uneven exposure, the need

often to work at a quick pace, and the length of time that we will spend with

the dead are part of the career choice we have made – but one that comes with

other considerations.

One of the difficulties of working with forensic cases, in particular, is the

inability to discuss these cases with the people who are the normal outlets one

312 Anthropologists and violence

of use, available at https://www.cambridge.org/core/terms. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107051409.022
Downloaded from https://www.cambridge.org/core. University of Central Florida, on 23 Oct 2021 at 19:43:48, subject to the Cambridge Core terms

has for tension. While people may find working on forensic cases an intriguing

topic of conversation, there is less willingness to hear the details – the

maggots, the smell, the decomposed organs within the body cavity. Chills

run up the spine when we say that we “cook the body,” but visualizing a pot in

which nail-polished hands bob up and down is a bit more than people want to


Family members often tire of hearing about cases in all the, often gory,

detail. The choice of subject matter for work was ours, and not necessarily that

of our families. This reticence to speak openly to family members about cases

increases when there are younger children present. I stopped bringing my

young daughter to the laboratory when she began asking if the stab wounds

in the spine of a victim had hurt him. She did not return to the lab for many

years after that, although she is now rather matter-of-fact about dead bodies.

The other factor that limits what we, as forensic anthropologists, can say to

others is the problem of dealing with forensic evidence. Active cases require

careful regulation of the release of information. Press coverage of cases will

publicize certain details but often many intimate details are not included and

may not be known beyond a small circle of investigators until the case goes to

trial. Many cases never go to trial so this information remains concealed. While

the wartime saying of “loose lips sink ships” now better applies to cyberspace,

inappropriate talk can sink a legal case.

We are known to our colleagues, often in anthropology departments, for

being a bit different. My colleagues in campus administration will acknow-

ledge that something is odd about my response to bodies. I have been known to

sit up sharply when a “burn pit” is mentioned in a campus planning activity –

only to slump when it was evident that I could not use it for experimentation on

thermal damage to remains. I also have a large number of non-human skeletal

elements and El Dia de los Muertos artifacts in my office. It has become

standard practice to give me skeleton cards, calendars, trinkets – anything as

long as it has bones. Even my family has succumbed to the tradition and

stopped trying to convert my décor to more acceptable designs of flowers or

geometric patterns.

However, to revel too much in the dead is not appropriate and shows an

indifference of the respect due to all individuals, living or dead. Our livelihood

does, in part, depend on the deaths of others. So, we must temper our almost

gleeful anticipation of a “good case” with the knowledge that, for a case to

come our way, someone died.

So, how do we cope? We find ways to breach the boundaries of the isolation

by reaching out to colleagues beyond our immediate circle. Some are fortunate

to work in coroners’ or medical examiners’ units with colleagues who share

the same experiences. However, many of us work in academia. These

Alison Galloway 313

of use, available at https://www.cambridge.org/core/terms. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107051409.022
Downloaded from https://www.cambridge.org/core. University of Central Florida, on 23 Oct 2021 at 19:43:48, subject to the Cambridge Core terms

conversations are often not ones to share with our departmental colleagues.

Our students share a part of this life, but until they have come to understand the

world in which they are immersing themselves, we often do not confide fully

in them. Revealing excessive vulnerability can also be problematic for a

mentor to a mentee. Many of us hold things inside until we have the chance

to share with like-minded colleagues.

The public often see professional conferences as a place where the latest

information, processes, and practices are exchanged. Equally important for

those of us who work with the dead is the opportunity to talk with others

whose experience is comparable. Much of the time is spent “out-grossing”

each other – an important release valve for the types of things we experience.

I often spend some of the time with the entomologists since one of my areas of

research has been decomposition. While we happily discuss the various attri-

butes and accomplishments of maggots and other larvae, the neighboring

tables begin to empty.

17.3 Lasting memories

Ask any forensic anthropologist or bioarchaeologist who deals with violence if

they have any lasting memories of their victims and almost all will say yes.

Many of these come from instances of mass disaster. It may be the image of the

large “head-sized” impact marks on the underside of the folding trays after an

airplane crash – especially when you have to fly the same type of plane on the

same route; it may be seeing children getting on a plane, having just worked on

a crash. In my case it was realizing that I was lifting a dead infant recovered

from a plane crash just as I had lifted my own daughter – lifting the legs

slightly and sliding my arm under the body to steady the head. In this case,

there was no head.

Many of us also have specific cases that haunt us. Often it is where the

complex pattern of defects seen on the bones can be matched to a story – either

from an informant or the defendant. In one such case, we were able to identify

blunt force blows to the head, multiple stab wounds in the lower back and

ribcage, and linear cuts on the cervical vertebrae. As we found out after

completing our analysis, the informant told of the victim being hit over the

head, bound, and tortured before having his throat slit.

Then there are the bodies that are not even ours to examine. Since we often

work in morgues, other remains pass before us. With each comes a story of

how and where they died, with whom they were at the time. Many coroner

cases are accidental deaths, often from drug or alcohol abuse, or suicides.

I turned around from a skeletonized case once to see the body of a young man,

314 Anthropologists and violence

of use, available at https://www.cambridge.org/core/terms. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107051409.022
Downloaded from https://www.cambridge.org/core. University of Central Florida, on 23 Oct 2021 at 19:43:48, subject to the Cambridge Core terms

with carefully sculpted and purple-dyed hair. He had been looking forward to a

weekend of partying just hours before the heroin overdose claimed his life.

I remember the hair.

Bioarchaeologists who work with victims of violence also capture images.

The flesh may be long gone but the ages, the poses, the cut marks or blows are

clearly visible. In these settings the reasoning behind why the people were

killed and why they were placed as they were in death cannot be fully known.

The investigator is left trying to reconstruct the unfathomable.

17.4 Seeing the funny side of death

Gary Larson has a lot of admirers among anthropologists – especially those

who work with human bodies. It was a sad day when he retired in 1995.

Fortunately his cartoons live on. I use them often in teaching, strongly favoring

those that poke fun at death, decay, and scavenging. There are times when

I relate particularly with his depiction of the child who brought in the head in a

pickle jar for classroom “show and tell.”

Humor is often used to break stressful situations but there are many

unspoken rules about the use of such jokes. In general, joking about specific

victims or attributing the cause of their death to their behavior or lifestyle is

less acceptable than jokes that target death itself or the current circumstances,

such as being in a roomful of decomposing bodies.

Gallows humor treats serious, even deadly, subjects as topics for satirical or

light conversation (Watson 2011). Watson points out that gallows humor

among physicians is often misunderstood as callousness and unprofessional

behavior. Instead, she insists that we must recognize the humanity of those

facing the stressful situation. About gallows humor among physicians, she

states: “Moments when health care providers suddenly see the enormous gulf

they’re straddling between medical and lay culture are one source of gallows

humor. Being off-balance can make us laugh, and sometimes laughing is what

keeps us from falling over.”

In a similar vein, Kuhlman (1988) describes humor used in a maximum

security criminal mental health facility. The situations in which such humor

surfaces share common features of unremitting or inescapable stressors and

a sense of “existential incongruity.” As anthropologists working on the

dead, we cannot escape the task at hand without jeopardizing our careers

and reputations. It has to be faced but we end up doing often socially

unacceptable things (defleshing, dismemberment) to the dead while investi-

gating what unspeakable things were done to get them that way in the first


Alison Galloway 315

of use, available at https://www.cambridge.org/core/terms. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107051409.022
Downloaded from https://www.cambridge.org/core. University of Central Florida, on 23 Oct 2021 at 19:43:48, subject to the Cambridge Core terms

The right to participate in gallows humor also marks the acceptance into a

professional community. Students who overly joke about the bodies are eyed

with suspicion, and senior practitioners either address the behavior or may

decline to continue the association. It is often the mentor’s role to initiate

and set the level of humor for the students.

17.5 People less than human

For killers to be able to kill, they see their victims as less than human. Levin

and Fox (2007) suggest that many sadistic killers do not fit the well-publicized

stereotype of having an extreme personality disorder. Instead they argue that

the killer is able to overcome his/her very normal forces of conscience by

compartmentalizing his/her activities and by dehumanizing the victim.

For the anthropologist dealing with the remains of the victim, we witness the

results of the dehumanization while simultaneously needing to dehumanize the

victim so that we can conduct our studies. In order to perform our work, we

must continue the desecration of the remains to reveal the information they

contain. We strip the bones of their flesh, examine each bone microscopically,

photograph it from every angle, and intrude into all the private areas of the

remains. We, too, compartmentalize these activities away from the rest of our

lives, and we must enter our scientific mode to remove the full humanity from

the deceased individual.

In modern society, the murder of certain categories of people is considered

more reprehensible. These include those individuals who are unable to provide

even some level of defense – children, the severely handicapped, the elderly.

Yet these are often the victims of violent crime, of mass disasters, and of

genocide. In the bioarchaeology context, the discovery of the bodies of

children as victims of either massacre or sacrifice is noted throughout the

world. Again, as the osteologists, we can adopt the approach that these are

scientific data as we complete the examinations and analyze the data. How-

ever, always lurking behind the screen we have mentally established is the

understanding that other humans deliberately murdered people who we would

now consider as innocent and harmless.

17.6 Post-traumatic stress

While post-traumatic stress may occur, most forensic anthropologists do not

claim to suffer the classic symptoms, or, if they do, they do not find them as

distressing. What we see are changes that are more subtle yet equally powerful.

316 Anthropologists and violence

of use, available at https://www.cambridge.org/core/terms. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107051409.022
Downloaded from https://www.cambridge.org/core. University of Central Florida, on 23 Oct 2021 at 19:43:48, subject to the Cambridge Core terms

These changes usually do not reach the level where symptoms become debili-

tating but they can interact with other aspects of our lives.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder commonly associated with those who have

experienced life-threatening events, such as military combat or physical or

sexual assaults. However, it can also be experienced by those who encounter

death on a repeated basis, such as coroners, death investigators, and forensic

experts. While the etiology is unknown, it is believed that the extreme expos-

ure changes the biochemistry by which the person deals with emotions in the

future. Changes in the transmission of neurotransmitters possibly underlie the


Symptoms fall roughly into three categories. The first is the “reliving” of the

event. Sufferers report flashbacks or dreams in which the events are repeated.

Many of us in the field also experience dreams that have images most would

find unpleasant. Decomposing bodies, skeletons, and evidence of terror may

litter the dreams but not cause particular distress. However, there are times

when circumstances do bring to mind the power of what we have witnessed.

If I were to dream of a rotting corpse, I do not become distressed; however,

if I dreamt of being murdered, or, worse, doing the murder, it is time to

re-evaluate the situation.

The second major group of symptoms involves avoidance. This cluster

includes an overall numbing of emotions and a retraction from circumstances

that would trigger images. Many symptoms in this group are similar to those of

depression. Finally, there is a cluster of symptoms around arousal in which

those who suffer from PTSD have difficulty concentrating and are easily

startled, constantly alert, irritable, and have difficulty sleeping.

Considerable work has been done on first responders, which may include

anthropologists, especially in multifatality incidents. Brondolo and colleagues

(2007) worked with the body handlers from the 9/11 incidents and noted that

many were overwhelmed not only by the volume of remains but by the

duration of the investigation that dragged on for over 4 years. In the immediate

aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster, there was an airline crash with

275 victims, which overlapped with the other analyses. People whose profes-

sional work usually kept them separated from the survivors were thrust into

roles of collecting antemortem data from families. Despite these circum-

stances, Brondolo notes that other studies show that the rates of PTSD are

relatively low amongst World Trade Center workers. The incidence of acute

stress disorder among those responding to air crashes may be as high as 25%

(Fullerton et al. 2004), while officers involved with the World Trade Center

showed rates of PTSD or partial PTSD up to 15% (Marmar et al. 2006).

Much of the psychological damage to workers on mass disasters can be

avoided by preparation (Brondolo et al. 2007). While the events are

Alison Galloway 317

of use, available at https://www.cambridge.org/core/terms. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107051409.022
Downloaded from https://www.cambridge.org/core. University of Central Florida, on 23 Oct 2021 at 19:43:48, subject to the Cambridge Core terms

unpredictable, training and practice sessions make the response more predict-

able. Mechanisms to provide information on progress and supporting perform-

ance are also beneficial. While mental health professionals would appreciate

greater involvement in the support of body handlers, there is reluctance to seek

these services. Much of this may lie in the perception of the isolated profes-

sional life (see above).

Less information is available about the effects on those who repeatedly

see the results of violence over a long period of time, such as medical

examiners, death investigators, autopsy technicians, and anthropologists.

Probably the best to date is a study of volunteer workers in Israel who

recover bodies and body parts after explosions, often perpetrated by suicide

bombers (Solomon et al. 2007). Surprisingly, these individuals showed

lower rates of PTSD than the general population. Furthermore, those

individuals who employed a “repressive coping strategy,” as defined by

Weinberger et al. (1979), were better protected than others. Such body

handlers report lower anxiety although they often exhibit higher levels of

physiological anxiety (heart rate and blood pressure), a response pattern

more fully explored by Mendolia et al. (1996) and Sparks et al. (1999).

In other words, their anxieties are repressed. Solomon and associates (2007)

noted that these individuals also reported a lower sense of danger in their

work, although their sense of safety was no better than the other, non-

repressive, individuals.

Self-selection may play a role in the relatively low incidence of mental

health issues. As a professor, I have many students who express the intense

desire to become forensic anthropologists – until their first experience with a

decomposing body. Because the anxiety must be “put aside” when working on

remains, those who choose to make it a career may be biased towards those

whose coping strategies are, in general, better matched. As one matures in the

field, the feeling of competence makes situations more controllable even

though every case presents new circumstances.

There comes a time, however, when one gets tired of seeing dead bodies. It

is not the dead themselves that cause the problem, it is the implication of what

humans can do to each other. For each homicide we see as a corpse, there was

someone or a group of people who were capable of putting aside their shared

humanity to kill. It is not the death we seek to avoid seeing but the killing.

I have known people in the field who have gotten so weary of death that they

have given up the sport of hunting, which they previously enjoyed. I am

addicted to a good murder mystery, whether in text or film, but routinely skip

over any reference to the actual act of killing. My ability to repress only works

so far and I make conscious choices to avoid situations that threaten to

overwhelm my abilities to accommodate.

318 Anthropologists and violence

of use, available at https://www.cambridge.org/core/terms. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107051409.022
Downloaded from https://www.cambridge.org/core. University of Central Florida, on 23 Oct 2021 at 19:43:48, subject to the Cambridge Core terms

17.7 Conclusions

People ask me what it takes to be a good forensic anthropologist and I usually

respond that it requires a weak nose and a strong stomach. In a sense, these are

helpful traits but they also symbolize the broader qualities that it takes to work

in this field. We have the responsibility to bear the burden of these deaths

while also trying to protect ourselves so that the scent of death does not

overwhelm us. We must remove ourselves emotionally from the immediate

scene. I refer to this as going into “science mode” in which the analysis of the

body takes priority over comprehending how the person died. The reality of

the violence, however, does catch up to us. The sense of loss for a life cut

short, the knowledge of the terror they experienced knowing that they would

soon die, and the privilege of telling the story the victims can no longer speak

require the anthropologist to be able and willing to bear the burden that comes

with this knowledge.

What keeps those of us in the field is our sense of discovery, resolution, and

contribution. When we examine a body, we are party to information about how

that person spent their last moments. We become the mouthpiece through

which that story can be told long after the decedent passed away. The ability to

balance the emotion of knowing this very private information with the scien-

tific investigation is key for a successful and lengthy career in the field.

A good colleague, a fellow forensic anthropologist, died recently. He left his

body to the University of Tennessee decay facility and the skeletal remains,

once cleaned, to the Smithsonian Institution. While we study death frequently,

we know we will, at some time in the future, also be the remains subject to

someone else’s handling.


Brondolo, E., Wellington, R., Brady, N., Libby, D. & Brondolo, T. J. (2007). Mechan-

ism and strategies for preventing post-traumatic stress disorder in forensic workers

responding to mass fatality incidents. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 15,


Fullerton, C. S., Ursano, R. J. & Wang, L. (2004). Acute stress disorder, posttraumatic

stress disorder, and depression in disaster or rescue workers. American Journal of

Psychiatry, 161, 1370–6.

Kuhlman, T. L. (1988). Gallows humor for a scaffold setting: managing aggressive

patients on a maximum-security forensic uni. Hospital and Community Psychiatry,

39, 1085–90.

Levin, J. & Fox, J. A. (2007). Normalcy in behavioral characteristics of the sadistic

serial killer. In: Kocsis, R. N. (ed.) Serial Murder and the Psychology of Violent

Crimes. Totowa: Humana Press Inc., 3–14.

Alison Galloway 319

of use, available at https://www.cambridge.org/core/terms. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107051409.022
Downloaded from https://www.cambridge.org/core. University of Central Florida, on 23 Oct 2021 at 19:43:48, subject to the Cambridge Core terms

Sharp force trauma relating to cultural anthropology



Roxana Ferllini,1 M.A.

Macroscopic and Microscopic Analysis of Knife
Stab Wounds on Fleshed and Clothed Ribs

ABSTRACT: Stab wounds upon bone are analyzed to interpret the weapon used and the physical context in which the attack occurred. The
literature demonstrates that most research conducted pertaining to wound patterns has been carried out on defleshed and unclothed bone samples, not
adequately replicating actual circumstances. For this research, six half pig torsos (Sus scrofa), fleshed (including muscle, fat, epidermis, and dermis
layers) and clothed, were stabbed using three knife types, applying both straight and downward thrusts. Analysis conducted macroscopically and
through a scanning electron microscope with an environmental secondary electron detector revealed a general lack of consistency in wound pattern
and associated secondary effects. Consequently, it was not possible to establish wound pattern per knife type as suggested in previous research or
relate it to stab motion. Advantage of microscopic analysis was evident in recognizing wound traits and observation of trace evidence not visible

KEYWORDS: forensic science, forensic anthropology, sharp force trauma, stab wounds, knives, wound patterns, stab motion, macroscopic
analysis, SEM analysis

Within countries that adopt stringent restrictions upon firearms,
an alternative trend of the utilization of sharp weapons has emerged
as a means by which to commit violent crimes, including homicides
(1); such is the case in the United Kingdom (2,3), where a surge of
knife-related crime has occurred in recent years. More specifically,
the city of London has been the focus of particular attention, as the
rate of knife-related stabbings is the highest in the United Kingdom
(4). The reality of this tendency is reflected clearly at the Accident
and Emergency Unit, Royal London Hospital, where some of the
worst cases are treated and where stabbing incidents currently con-
stitute a total of 25% of the cases treated, including very young
teenagers, compared with statistics from 1997 at which time such
incidents comprised <10% of total casualties treated (5).

Knife attacks occur within a variety of locations and circum-
stances (6), with access to such potentially fatal weapons being
possible within most homes (1,2,6–10); such weapons may be eas-
ily concealed, and no current legal restrictions exist pertaining to
the possession of such implements because of their utilitarian nat-
ure (as opposed to hunting knives or like weapons that are
designed specifically for killing and dismemberment); and such
weapons may also be readily disposed of when required (2,4,6).
The latter point is of importance within the United Kingdom, as
Section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 prohibits any indi-
vidual to bear offensive weapons of any class in public areas with-
out lawful authority or excuse (Archbold, 24.106a) (11).

In homicide cases, the identification of trauma inflicted upon the
body and the type of weapon utilized may be assessed through soft
tissue or bone analysis; within the latter instance, a knife injury can
be identified by a distinct narrow V-shaped incision, with striations
perpendicular to the kerf floor, minimal wastage (defined as

fragments of bone separated from the main section of bone), and in
some instances, hinge fractures (defined as a portion of bone lifted
from a fractured area but still attached to its original bone) may
occur (12,13). It is here where the role of forensic anthropology
can be of assistance during the postmortem examination (14–18).

The aim of this research was to identify potentially useful diag-
nostic features produced by knife type. Two manners of stab
motions were to be used, with the resultant wounds being exam-
ined via macroscopic and scanning electron microscope (SEM)
analysis. The results were to be compared as per Thompson and
Inglis (16).

Materials and Methods

Six halved and recently butchered pig torsos (Sus scrofa) were
purchased from a reputable butcher and processed for study soon
after being obtained. Pig samples were specifically selected, as the
species is widely accepted to be comparable to humans with
respect to elements such as soft and hard-tissue structure, and gen-
eral density (6,16,19). The torso was selected as a focal point for
this research, as it is normally the most frequently affected anatom-
ical area with reference to stabbing attacks (2,7,20–22).

Three separate tests were conducted using two half torsos in
each case. The torsos varied in size, and all possessed sternal–costal
cartilage, with the sternum being present in various degrees of
completeness; in only one sample was the whole sternum present.
The rib number in each case varied between eight and 12 ribs, with
a mean of 9.66 ribs per sample.

Sample Preparation

Previous research has been conducted pertaining to the identifica-
tion of sharp force trauma upon bone, by utilizing a variety of
sharp instruments; most of such studies were carried out on

1Institute of Archaeology, University College London, London WC1H

Received 22 Oct. 2010; and in revised form 22 Dec. 2010; accepted 5
Mar. 2011.

J Forensic Sci, May 2012, Vol. 57, No. 3
doi: 10.1111/j.1556-4029.2012.02087.x

Available online at: onlinelibrary.wiley.com

� 2012 American Academy of Forensic Sciences 683


previously macerated bone samples, or under controlled methods
(6,10,14,16,18,23), elements not specifically representative of the
actual circumstances usually connected to homicide cases. It is doc-
umented that soft tissue and clothing worn by potential victims pro-
duce a variable upon the degree of penetration by sharp
instruments, as the mentioned elements provide factors of resistance
against the stabbing force (3,10). Therefore, care was taken to repli-
cate as realistically as possible, a knife attack upon an individual
by partially separating the skin with the use of a scalpel to allow
the removal of excess subcutaneous fat within the samples utilized.
Once this was accomplished, the skin was sewn back into place by
using embalming twine (7).

The next step involved covering each sample by sewing light
cotton fabric around it, thus recreating the attire of light cotton
shirts, as normally worn by young males in the United Kingdom
regardless of season. Once each sample was wrapped, a firm
sponge was placed against the dorsal side to represent the organs
contained within the thoracic cavity.


Three types of kitchen knives were utilized: two straight-bladed
knives and a serrated-bladed knife, all purchased as a set from a
Pound World� store (Wolverhampton, UK) for £1 Sterling. The
lengths of the knives were measured from the tip to where the
blade met the handle and for width across the widest point. The
large straight-bladed knife (with reference to the samples referred
to as STBL) measured 199 mm in length and 32.7 mm wide; the
short straight-bladed knife (with reference to the samples known as
STBS) measured 120 mm long and 17.6 mm wide. The serrated
knife (referred to as SEBL) was 203 mm in length and 21.3 mm
wide, with its teeth arranged in a scalloped pattern along the left
edge of the blade; the tooth dimensions of the latter example were
a length of 0.04 mm and a width 0.25 mm, being set 0.03 mm
apart from each other.


The author is clearly aware that from a purely bio-mechanical
angle, the manipulation of a weapon during a stabbing attack is dif-
ficult to replicate, because of the random nature of any given
assault. For the purposes of this experiment, the stabbings were
conducted upon each half torso, with each being placed securely
against a solid round structure in anatomical position at 1.25 m,
thereby mimicking an individual of approximately 1.70 m in
height, standing upright, and facing the assailant. A healthy man of
1.83 m in stature acted as the assailant; most stabbing cases occur-
ring in public settings involve interactions between men, in the pro-
cess causing more physical damage than women in such instances
(2). The assailant was instructed to inflict 12 stabbings upon each
sample, six utilizing a straight forward motion followed by six
stabbings in a downward thrust motion. Each stab was completed
with the right hand while leaning forward, with the assailant brac-
ing himself on his left foot and standing at a point of contact
approximately 53 cm away from each sample.

The penetration force was not measured here as the experiment
was conducted based upon the premise of a random attack; penetra-
tion forces do vary greatly in magnitude between one instance to
another, depending upon resistance variables obtained from soft tis-
sue and clothing, the type of knife, and the stature of the victim and
attacker (10) among other factors; however, based on Gilchrist et al.
(10), the force utilized here can be considered as moderate, as the
blade was expected to penetrate soft tissue, cartilage, and bone tissue.

Recording and Maceration

After each set of stabbings was inflicted, the sample remained in
situ and each tear visible upon the fabric was marked with a blue-
inked circle to represent each of the straight thrusts and with red-
inked circles to indicate the downward thrusts. Subsequent data
were accurately compiled regarding the position of the stabbings
within each sample, followed by the careful removal of the cotton
fabric while transferring the marks of the entrance wounds directly
onto the skin by the use of colored ink, to accurately facilitate
examination of the soft tissue. In this manner, it was possible to
more accurately track each wound trajectory through to potential
contact with the ribs, thereby enabling a more precise record of
wound placement. Additionally, the dorsal side of each sample was
carefully examined to note whether any of the stabbings had pene-
trated straight through, thereby damaging the periosteum and soft

Each rib was subsequently removed, appropriately marked, and
placed in a container and left to simmer between 20 and 30 min
within a solution of water and biological detergent to more readily
macerate the ribs by hand; this method also aided in the careful
treatment of wound sites, thereby avoiding the possibility of acci-
dental markings that might be created if a scalpel was utilized to
remove the tissue. Once all of the ribs were macerated and pre-
pared, they were arranged upon a table in anatomical order.

Macroscopic Analysis

All of the ribs were examined to accurately assess the distribu-
tion of stab type per half torso; wound patterns were duly noted

TABLE 1—Distribution of stab wounds by knife type, test number, and
stabbing motion.


Straight trust rib 3,
rib 5*
rib 7�

rib 2
rib 3*
rib 4

rib 3
rib 4
rib 5
rib 6
rib 8

rib 4
rib 6*
rib 7*
rib 5

rib 6
rib 8

rib 4
rib 5
rib 6

Downward trust rib 1
rib 2
rib 3

rib 4 rib 3
rib 4
rib 5
rib 6

rib 3
rib 4*
rib 6

rib 1
rib 2*�

rib 3�


rib 2
rib 3
rib 4
rib 5

*Two wounds.
�Three wounds.
�STBS1 ribs 2 and 3 sharing a downward thrust.

FIG. 1—A straight and a downward thrust stab sharing the same point of
contact in sample STBS2 rib 4.



and examination made for possible secondary effects caused by
each stabbing, while at all times producing a cross-reference with
respect to the observations recorded before maceration.

Microscopic Analysis

The use of SEM was extremely useful for assessing diagnostic
features produced by each individual weapon (14) as the process
provides excellent imaging, and a range of magnifications (24) can
be utilized for effective wound pattern detection; an Hitachi
S-3400N SEM (Hitachi, Ltd., Tokyo, Japan) with an environmental
secondary electron detector (ESED) was employed, permitting the
examination of samples without the use of any kind of coating,
thereby preserving the optimum integrity of the samples examined

Each contact site was observed to assess wound pattern with ref-
erence to the kerf characteristics and any diagnostic features that
were not evident at the macroscopic level. Here too, a cross-refer-
ence was produced with observations recorded before maceration.
The results were compared as per Thompson and Inglis (16).


Owing to the small sample size, the prevalence is presented here.
Seventy-two stabs were inflicted, of which 26 (36.11%) failed to
strike a rib. Of the total 36 straight thrust stabbings, 25 were suc-
cessful in impacting bone tissue (69.44%), 24 (96%) were discov-
ered between ribs 3 and 8, and 14 (58.33%) were concentrated on
the midsection between ribs 5 and 7 of the samples. The only
exception to the aforementioned patterns was SEBL2 rib 2 with

FIG. 2—STBL2 rib 4 with wedge shape incisions on cranial edge created by downward thrust stabs producing hinge fractures.

FIG. 3—SEBL2 rib 3 with two straight thrust wounds. Hinge fracture
associated with upper wound.



one straight thrust lesion. In none of the samples were ribs 1, 9,
10, 11, and 12 (the latter four where present) affected by this kind
of stab motion (Table 1).

In the case of the downward thrust stabbings, 21 (58.33%) of
the 36 performed were successful in striking a rib. However, unlike
the straight thrust stabbings, these were distributed upon the upper
half of each of the torsos between ribs 1 and 6, with the majority
concentrated between ribs 2 and 5, representing 80.95% of the total
stabs produced (Table 1). Only one sample was observed, STBS2

rib 4, which displayed a straight and downward thrust at the same
point of contact (Fig. 1). The distribution of stab wounds presented
earlier is partly dictated by the relationship of the respective heights
of the assailant and the victim.

Wound Pattern, Placement, and Damage

Within both methods of stabbings, the macroscopic analysis
illustrated a general lack of consistency in wound patterns including

FIG. 4—STBL1 rib 6 with a straight thrust stab causing a complete
breakage at the sternal end.

FIG. 5—SEBL2 rib 2 knife tip penetrated the body of the rib with dorsal perforation during a straight thrust stab.

FIG. 6—A downward thrust stab striking the caudal edge of STBS1 rib 2
with the upper edge of the knife and puncturing STBS1 rib 3 on the cranial



puncture wounds, nicks, wedged, and crescent-shaped incisions and
fractures. Some of the wounds presented the expected V-shape
associated with sharp force trauma; those that did not were light
incisions (nicks), or unusual wound patterns. Likewise, placement
within each rib and the degree of damage among the three knife
types varied widely as well.

Additionally, some of the wounds displayed secondary effects
that were observed on the bone tissue. Hinge fractures are clearly
visible on wedge and crescent shape wounds on the cranial edge
(Fig. 2) and body of the rib (Fig. 3), complete fractures (Fig. 4),
dorsal damage (the tip of the knife going through) (Fig. 5), mark-
ings by upper dull edge of the knife (Fig. 6), and wastage (Fig. 7).
Of the 46 ribs injured through both types of stabbings, 18
(39.13%) exhibited secondary effects, and 22 of the 34 secondary
effects observed were created by downward thrust stabs (64.70%)
(Table 2). Although all knife types were represented, the short
straight-bladed knife produced a higher extent of damage to the
bone tissue.

Wound pattern variation at the microscopic level was also evi-
dent, with particular reference to nicks, where the V-shape that is
characteristic of knife wounds could be fully appreciated (Fig. 8);
additionally, damage to the kerf floor varied throughout the sam-
ples, from simple superficial alterations to fractures presenting a
zig-zag effect as the blade cut through the cortical bone (Fig. 9;
also visible on Fig. 5). It should be noted that this zig-zag pattern
was readily noticeable in straight thrusts striking the body of the
rib as the knife blade slid over it. In some downward thrust stabs,
the blade also slid after the initial point of contact.

One characteristic associated exclusively with downward thrust
stabs is the cone shape associated with the initial point of contact
of the knife upon the bone (13), representing 71.42% of the total
wounds inflicted in this manner (Fig. 10).

Although this research was not directed at analyzing trace evi-
dence, through microscopic examination it became evident that
textile strands were present within some of the wounds (Fig. 11).


When the wounds were observed both macroscopically and
microscopically, the patterns and secondary effects varied across
the three knife types used. Because of such inconsistencies regard-
ing potential patterns, it was not possible to conclude upon individ-
ual sets of diagnostic features pertaining to each knife type.
Furthermore, the striations expected from sharp force trauma
caused by a knife on bone were not observed under SEM for any
knife type, although the V-shape was observed in most cases.
Wastage is normally considered to be at a minimum in connection
with knife stabbings (12); however, within this research results
were obtained that clearly illustrated evidence of considerable wast-
age on some points of contact.

Conversely, in relation to the stab motions applied, some char-
acteristics were noted. With the downward thrust stabs, regardless
of knife type, a cone shape was observed in some of the samples,
created by the point of the knife upon initial impact upon the
hard tissue; in some cases, the blade proceeded to slide over the
bone after impact, but because this occurrence was not observed
in all of the downward thrust stabs, it cannot be stated to be a
diagnostic feature aiding in the identification of a stab of this nat-
ure in all cases. Furthermore, the straight thrust wounds found in
areas other than the edges of the ribs, regardless of knife type,

FIG. 7—STBS1 rib 5 exhibiting wastage due to a downward thrust stab,
note the associated hinge fracture. Arrow indicates a separate downward
thrust stab wound.

TABLE 2—Secondary results from straight thrust (ST) and downward
thrust (DT) stabbings distributed by knife type, test number, and respective

rib number.

Fracture Fracture


Marking by
Upper Dull

Edge of Knife Wastage

SEBL1 rib 2 DT
SEBL1 rib 3 DT
SEBL2 rib 2 ST
SEBL2 rib 3 ST* ST*

SEBL2 rib 4 ST DT
STBL1 rib 6 DT* ST


STBL1 rib 8 ST
STBL2 rib 3 DT

STBL2 rib 4 DT*


STBL2 rib 5 ST*


STBL2 rib 7 ST

STBS1 rib 1 DT* DT*
STBS1 rib 2 DT� DT


STBS1 rib 5 DT* DT*
STBS1 rib 6 ST
STBS1 rib 8 ST
STBS2 rib 4 DT* DT*
STBS2 rib 5 DT* DT*

*Associated from same stab wound.
�From different stab wounds.



demonstrated that when the knife penetrated the body, the hard
tissue resisted the impact, resulting in more damage (Figs 3–5);
once more, out of the three knives used during this research, the
short straight-bladed knife caused the most prominent damage
using either stab movement, regardless of point of contact
(Fig. 7); again, these results could not be used as actual diagnostic

It is of note that the male volunteer reported that using the
straight short blade gave him more control of the force and preci-
sion with regard to the placement of the knife where he truly
wanted it to be during the stabbing process, regardless of stab

FIG. 8—STBL1 rib 4, a straight thrust stab leaving a V-shaped incision seen microscopically.

FIG. 9—STBL1 rib 5 showing a zig-zag pattern left on the kerf floor as
knife slid on cortical bone during a straight thrust tab.

FIG. 10—SEBL2 rib 4 cone shaped puncture created by knife tip during
a downward thrust stab.


motion, leaving the impression that it was a potentially more
powerful weapon. Furthermore, the volunteer indicated that this
particular knife did not ‘‘wobble’’ during the stabbing process.

As per Thompson and Inglis (16), a consistency in wound pat-
tern was reported per knife type after stab wounds were inflicted in
a controlled manner on defleshed bone, using a serrated and
straight-bladed knife. Because of the consistency in patterns, the
wounds were measured by length and width. On this last point, an
attempt was made to do likewise; however, because of the broad
range of patterns obtained, the results could not be quantified in a
cohesive manner. The differences between the two studies are
believed to be the result of multifactorial variables and randomness
addressed during the experiment, which reflect more real

Not all of the 72 stabs inflicted were successful in striking a rib
and causing injury; some struck cartilage or passed between the
intercostal spaces (20). The straight thrust stabs clustered on the
midsection of the torso, and ribs 1 and 2 were not affected in either
of the samples except for SEBL2. This pattern is because of the
position of the volunteer in front of the sample, as if facing a vic-
tim, and to strike the first two ribs, the volunteer would have had
to raise his arm more than would normally be required for this stab
motion. The exception in SEBL2 rib 2 (Fig. 5) was possibly due to
the fact that this half torso was the largest sample used, allowing
this particular rib more surface exposure, and to be placed at a
somewhat lower position in comparison with the other samples. On
the other hand, the downward thrust stabs were clustered instead in
the upper portion of the samples, caused by the volunteer raising
his arm to inflict this kind of wound. The wound placement on the
ribs discussed here is related in part to the association of the
respective heights of the victim and assailant.

The trace evidence present on some of the ribs in the form of
textile fibers constitutes a potential and significant evidentiary ele-
ment in the resolution of homicide cases (25); new technologies
have recently been developed which further assist in detection and
recovery in such instances (1,26). It is recommended here that if
such information is sought as part of an investigation, due care
must be taken before any process of maceration is conducted, so as
not to degrade or destroy potential evidence. Additionally, it is
clear that the utilization of SEM with ESED is advantageous, as
knowledge of such evidence cannot always be assessed at the mac-
roscopic level.

Summary and Conclusions

The varied wound patterns and lack of consistent diagnostic fea-
tures evident in the wounds produced during this research, demon-
strated that caution must be taken when analyzing knife wounds
upon bone with reference to knife type; the results obtained stand
in contrast to those presented by Thompson and Inglis (16). Addi-
tionally, the straight thrust stabs were clustered on the midsection
of each torso, while the downward thrust stabs were more evident
upon the upper portions, in accordance with the relationship
between the victim’s height and that of the assailant.

The application of macroscopic analysis of stab wounds on bone
will provide information pertaining to wound patterns; however,
microscopic analysis can further aid in identifying V-shaped
wounds and zig-zag patterns in the kerf floor that may not be
otherwise noted. Additionally, SEM can also be of assistance in the
detection of trace evidence, for example, textile fibers originating
from clothing worn at the time of the attack.


The author would like to give special thanks to Kevin
Reeves, Microscope Laboratory, Institute of Archaeology, Uni-
versity College London, for his assistance with the scanning
electron microscope and keeping a good sense of humor; to Stu-
art Laidlaw, Photographic Laboratory, Institute of Archaeology,
University College London, for his advice and production of the
figures presented here; and to Wendy Birch, Anatomical Sci-
ences, University College London, for her valuable comments
pertaining to the microscopic results. Thanks are also extended
to the volunteer who conducted the stabbings for this research.
Finally, thanks are given to the two anonymous reviewers for
their useful suggestions.


1. Kemp SE, Carr DJ, Kieser J, Niven BE, Taylor MC. Forensic evidence
in apparel fabrics due to stab events. Forensic Sci Int 2009;191(1–3):86–

2. Hunt AC, Cowling RJ. Murder by stabbing. Forensic Sci Int

3. O’Calaghan PT, Jones MD, James DS, Leadbeatter S, Holt SA,
Nokes LDM. Dynamics of stab rounds: force required for penetration
of various cadaveric human tissues. Forensic Sci Int 1999;104:

4. Squires P. The knife crime ‘‘epidemic’’ and British politics. Br Politics

5. The Hospital, 2010, http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-hospital/
episode-guide/series-2/episode-2 (accessed December 20, 2010).

6. Hainsworth SV, Rutty GN. How sharp is sharp? Towards quantification
of the sharpness and penetration ability of kitchen knives used in stabb-
ings. Int J Legal Med 2008;122:281–91.

7. Croft A, Ferllini R. Macroscopic characteristics of screwdriver trauma.
J Forensic Sci 2007;52(6):1243–51.

8. Karlsson T. Homicidal and suicidal sharp force fatalities in Stockholm,
Sweden. Orientation of entrance wounds in stabs gives information in
the classification. Forensic Sci Int 1998;93:21–32.

9. Ambade VN, Godbole HV. Comparison of wound patterns in homicide
by sharp and blunt force. Forensic Sci Int 2004;156:166–70.

10. Gilchrist MD, Keenan S, Curtis M, Cassidy M, Byrne G, Destrade M.
Measuring knife stab penetration into skin simulant using a novel biaxal
tension device. Forensic Sci Int 2008;177:52–65.

11. The Crown Prosecution Service, http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/l_to_o/
offensive_weapons_knives_bladed_and_pointed_articles/#a07 (accessed
December 20, 2010).

12. Reichs KJ. Postmortem dismemberment: recovery, analysis and interpre-
tation. In: Reichs KJ, editor. Forensic osteology: advances in the identi-
fication of human remains, 2nd edn. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas
Publisher, 1998;353–88.

FIG. 11—Textile fiber found within the wound in sample SEBL1 rib 2.


13. Byers SN. Introduction to forensic anthropology, 3rd edn. Boston, MA:
Pearson Education, 2008.

14. Bartelink EJ, Wiersema JM, Demaree RS. Quantitative analysis of
sharp-force trauma: an application of scanning electron microscopy in
forensic anthropology. J Forensic Sci 2001;46(6):1288–93.

15. Walker PL, Long JC. An experimental study of the morphological char-
acteristics of tool marks. Am Antiquity 1977;42(4):605–16.

16. Thompson TJU, Inglis J. Differentiation of serrated and non-serrated
blades from stab marks in bone. Int J Legal Med 2009;123:129–35.

17. Galloway A, Symes S, Haglund W, France D. The role of forensic
anthropology in trauma analysis. In: Galloway A, editor. Broken bones:
anthropological analysis of blunt force trauma. Springfield, IL: Charles
C Thomas Publisher, 1999;5–31.

18. Lynn KS, Fairgrieve SI. Macroscopic analysis of axe and hatchet trauma
in fleshed and defleshed mammalian long bones. J Forensic Sci

19. France D, Griffin T, Swanburg J, Lindemann J, Clark Davenport G,
Trammell V, et al. A Multidisciplinary approach to the detection of
clandestine graves. J Forensic Sci 1992;37(6):1445–58.

20. Ambade VN, Godbole HV. Comparison of wound patterns in homicide
by sharp and blunt force. Forensic Sci Int 2006;156:166–70.

21. Dyer C. Compulsory reporting of stabbings is no panacea for knife
crime, surgeon tells MPs. BMJ 2008;337:a2767.

22. Banasr A, Lorin de la Grandmaison G, Durigon M. Frequency of
bone ⁄ cartilage lesions in stab and incised wounds fatalities. Forensic Sci
Int 2003;131(2–3):131–3.

23. Humprey JH, Hutchinson DL. Macroscopic characteristics of hacking
trauma. J Forensic Sci 2001;46(2):228–33.

24. Lynn KS, Fairgrieve SI. Microscopic indicators of axe and hatchet
trauma in fleshed and defleshed mammalian long bones. J Forensic Sci

25. Canetta E, Montiel K, Adya A. Morphological changes in textile fibres
exposed to environmental stresses: atomic force microscopic examina-
tion. Forensic Sci Int 2009;191(1–3):6–14.

26. Ledbetter NL, Walton BL, Davila P, Hoffmann WD, Ernest RN, Ver-
beck GF. Nanomanipulation-coupled nanospray mass spectrometry
applied to the extraction and analysis of trace analytes found on fibers.
J Forensic Sci 2010;55(5):1218–21.

Additional information and reprint requests:
Roxana Ferllini, M.A.
Institute of Archaeology
University College London
London WC1H OPY
E-mail: r.ferllini@ucl.ac.uk


Sharp force trauma relating to cultural anthropology

1 Introduction: interpreting violence

in the ancient and modern world when

skeletonized bodies are all you have

debra l. martin and

cheryl p. anderson

1.1 Introduction

If this collection of studies on interpreting violence has a single raison d’être it

is that bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology make good bedfellows in

thinking about the reasons and context for interpersonal violence. Bioarchaeol-

ogy has emerged as an important and integrated approach to understanding

human skeletal biology in the past. It combines analysis of skeletonized human

remains with archaeological reconstruction of the grave and habitation site,

and other aspects of the environment in which individuals lived. Forensic

anthropology is the application of methods from bioarchaeology, but usually

in a more recent historic or contemporary setting. The data from the skeleton

are usually used in a legal setting while working with police, coroners, or

human rights organizations. Both bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology

share complex methodologies for gleaning every piece of scientific data from

the human remains and the context in which they are found. Yet these two

subdisciplines within biological anthropology often are separated in edited

volumes, within departments, and across national conferences.

This is among the first organized symposia that we are aware of that

presents a thematic set of case studies coming from both subdisciplines. At

the 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical

Anthropologists in Portland OR (April 11–14, 2012) the initial poster session

focused on case studies that revealed sometimes surprising or counterintuitive

interpretations of violence because a more nuanced approach was taken to

understand both the bones and the context. The focus is on the theories and

methods that are used to interpret violent interactions by identifying both the

Bioarchaeological and Forensic Perspectives on Violence: How Violent Death is Interpreted from

Skeletal Remains, ed. D. L. Martin and C. P. Anderson. Published by Cambridge University Press.

© Cambridge University Press 2014.


terms of use, available at https://www.cambridge.org/core/terms. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107051409.002
Downloaded from https://www.cambridge.org/core. University of Central Florida, on 01 Dec 2021 at 17:29:07, subject to the Cambridge Core


perpetrators of violence and those who suffered as a result of their actions. The

chapters in this volume all reveal how violence is reconstructed from skeletal

and contextual information. However, they provide a range of approaches to

foster multiple perspectives with regard to documenting and interpreting

the meaning of violence. Individual chapters demonstrate how this can be

operationalized on many different levels. In particular, the focus of these case

studies is to identify the different participants in violent encounters (victims,

witnesses, aggressors) in order to provide more detailed and nuanced interpret-

ations of human behavior.

1.2 The complementarity of bioarchaeology and forensic


Bioarchaeology focuses on reconstructing ancient and historic cultures from

burials and other archaeological evidence in an academic setting. Forensic

anthropology deals primarily with more recent (and, most times, violent)

deaths in local, national, and international arenas, and it is carried out within

a framework that includes law enforcement, medical examiners, human rights

organizations, lawyers, and surviving family members. Although both do work

that involves excavation and analysis of skeletonized human remains, the

career trajectory of bioarchaeologists and forensic anthropologists can be very


Bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology have largely developed in the

USA as distinctively different career tracks, but there have been many scholars

who practice both professionally and this has been the case for a long time

(Buikstra and Beck 2006; Komar and Buikstra 2008). Physical (or biological)

anthropology historically started out with individuals trained in anatomy and/

or medicine. Both Hooton and Hrdlička (dubbed the “father of physical

anthropology”) worked on forensic cases (Thompson 1982). Ubelaker (1999:

728) writes that Hrdlička worked directly with the FBI on solving cases for

them in the 1930s. Thus there is a long and illustrious history of melding

biological anthropology and forensic work.

Bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology present complementary perspec-

tives for examining violence in both past and contemporary societies. An

important goal of any investigation of conflict and trauma is to place the

skeletal data into the larger social, political, or historical context. One way to

get a deeper understanding of the motivations and consequences of violence

for different categories of participants (e.g. victims, aggressors, captives,

warriors) is to examine the different roles that individual agents and groups

play and how they interact in a specific location.

4 Introduction

terms of use, available at https://www.cambridge.org/core/terms. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107051409.002
Downloaded from https://www.cambridge.org/core. University of Central Florida, on 01 Dec 2021 at 17:29:07, subject to the Cambridge Core


An example of this approach is teasing out the victims from the attackers in

cases of indigenous or colonial warfare or sectarian conflicts. Careful analysis

of the human remains, detailed observations on the burial context, and ethno-

graphic or witness reports all can aid in providing a more accurate and nuanced

reconstruction of past events. Chapters in this volume highlight case studies of

antemortem and perimortem trauma in contemporary, historic, and ancient

contexts. These integrated bioarchaeological–forensic approaches are useful

in constructing the contexts in which violence takes place. Ultimately, both

subdisciplines aim to reconstruct and explain complex human behavior and so

can benefit from directly sharing case studies, methods of analysis, and

theoretical approaches to interpretation.

There is currently no umbrella term that would subsume both the work of

forensic anthropologists, forensic archaeologists, and bioarchaeologists,

although “forensic bioarchaeology” might be something to consider in the

future. Increasingly, the work of the forensic anthropologist is highly varied,

from work in academic settings and local homicide cases, to working at mass

disasters and places where large numbers of people have perished from

sectarian warfare and genocide (Crossland 2009). Bioarchaeologists are

increasingly volunteering to aid in a wide variety of contexts that involve

skeletonized remains, from historic cemeteries to mass disasters (Blau and

Skinner 2005). This blurring of the roles of bioarchaeology and forensic

anthropology is breaking down the largely artificial divisions between those

who study the ancient dead and those who assist with the more recently dead.

Another reason why this is the moment to blend theory, method, and data

from bioarchaeology with forensic anthropology is that bioarchaeology itself is

emerging in a relatively new configuration (see Martin et al. 2013). Modern

bioarchaeology is integrated into broader anthropological agendas of engage-

ment and ethical action. Many bioarchaeologists incorporate theories about

human behavior into their work and this has broadened and deepened the

interpretations derived from human remains (Martin et al. 2013). Forensic

anthropologists have provided a profound sense of what is at stake for the

living when the dead cannot be located or identified (Sanford 2004). In

addition, many forensic anthropologists also examine the direct impact of

violent acts on the communities from which the victims were taken, and on

eye-witnesses to the violence.

One of the issues facing the relatively young discipline of forensic anthropol-

ogy is the need to create a balance between specialized knowledge embedded in

the forensic sciences and training in the other subfields of anthropology.

Through interdisciplinary inquiry and engagement across the subfields, anthro-

pology provides a way to view the diversity of opinions about violence, warfare,

and human rights issues that often result in death, trauma, and social upheaval.

Debra L. Martin and Cheryl P. Anderson 5

terms of use, available at https://www.cambridge.org/core/terms. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107051409.002
Downloaded from https://www.cambridge.org/core. University of Central Florida, on 01 Dec 2021 at 17:29:07, subject to the Cambridge Core


1.3 A blended forensic–bioarchaeological approach

A variety of forms of violence, covert and vicious types of warfare, and a

broad range of activities regarding surveillance or the elimination of human

rights have created work for anthropologists that could not have been

imagined 100 years ago. Future forensic anthropologists and bioarchaeolo-

gists will need to continue training not just in the fundamentals of excavation

and skeletal analysis. They also will need training in all four subfields of

anthropology to broaden their theoretical and practical approach to dealing

with everyday violence. In this way, bioarchaeology (which is already

deeply embedded in anthropological inquiry) and forensic anthropology

can engage in an interdisciplinary inquiry of the theoretical and empirical

issues within the study of violence, warfare, surveillance, and human rights.

The approach and perspective that anthropology brings to the study of

violence is a critical, self-reflective, and non-reductionist perspective that

allows for a holistic examination of the dynamics that have led to the wide

array of human atrocities committed throughout the world. It is this strength

that is needed to keep forensic archaeology from falling into a trap of

creating highly specialized technicians who are disconnected from the rest

of anthropology.

Forensic anthropology and bioarchaeology may be considered two sides of

the same coin (i.e. human osteology); however, this does not always have to be

the case. The two applications of human skeletal analysis may have very

different objectives and yet they are fundamentally inseparable in terms of

methodology, theories about violence, and, sometimes, ultimate goals. The

biggest difference between the two subdisciplines is that forensic analysis

tends to focus on the individual while bioarchaeological analysis is more

concerned with populations (although individuals can be a focus as well).

Furthermore, forensic analysis may not have as much concern for skeletal

evidence of events over the life course of the individual, something that has

been more recently incorporated into broader bioarchaeological interpretation

of individuals and their role within the population.

Bioarchaeology has the depth and cross-cultural breadth to help shape and

understand the profound and complicated ways that humans think about and

use violence and bodies. Bioarchaeologists use human remains as a lens

through which to examine cultural processes. The ways that dead bodies are

discussed, hidden, and displayed are used as a point of departure for examining

the forms of violence that contributed to the deaths under study. Many of the

most horrific genocidal events in the past 100 years demonstrate the relation-

ship between violence and the expressive function that such acts and images

have as vehicles of universal human communication. Covert operations are

6 Introduction

terms of use, available at https://www.cambridge.org/core/terms. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107051409.002
Downloaded from https://www.cambridge.org/core. University of Central Florida, on 01 Dec 2021 at 17:29:07, subject to the Cambridge Core


designed with the goal of unraveling culturally constructed webs of trust. Thus,

the bodies have both real and symbolic properties.

1.4 Encompassing and cross-cutting themes

To continue building bridges and meshing methods and theory, the chapters in

this book provide case studies that highlight the larger intellectual context

within which this kind of scholarship falls. There are three broad sections, each

with an emphasis on a particular approach and a particular contribution to new

uses of methods and theories. While there is overlap among the sections, each

provides a particularly nuanced set of case studies that show that there is no

one way to interpret the meaning of violence – rather, there are many different

pathways to getting at a more complete picture based on initial examination of

human remains. The first section provides a variety of new approaches and

methodologies for analysis of human remains. The next section provides a

wide range of cases that fall into the broad category of ritual and performative

violence. The last section takes up issues of identity and its dynamic interplay

with a range of cultural factors. We end the volume with a thought-provoking

chapter on what it means to do the kind of work that scholars in this book do in

dealing with death and violence.

1.4.1 Innovative methodologies in forensic anthropology

and bioarchaeology

Stefan Flohr, Ute Brinker, Elena Spanagel, Annemarie Schramm, Jörg

Orschiedt, and Uwe Kierdorf (Chapter 2) investigate the demography of a

commingled skeletal collection, located near the Tollense River in Germany,

suspected to represent the victims of a battle. To accomplish this, Flohr and

colleagues examine the cross-sectional properties of adult femora from this

site to test whether the battlefield hypothesis is appropriate. Their results show

the demography of the assemblage is largely consistent with what would be

expected from a battlefield, mostly young and middle adult males, but that some

females were also among the victims at this site. They discuss the important

roles that women may have played during battles in the past, providing empir-

ical evidence for the presence of females on the battlefield in this study. The

approach taken by these authors contributes to understanding gender roles in

violent events and how they may be identified bioarchaeologically.

Anna Kjellström and Michelle D. Hamilton (Chapter 3) reconstruct the

events on the Royal Swedish Navy warship Kronan that led to sharp force

Debra L. Martin and Cheryl P. Anderson 7

terms of use, available at https://www.cambridge.org/core/terms. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107051409.002
Downloaded from https://www.cambridge.org/core. University of Central Florida, on 01 Dec 2021 at 17:29:07, subject to the Cambridge Core

trauma on some individuals using a forensic anthropological approach. They

apply a detailed methodology to examine the sharp force defects present in this

commingled collection. The authors demonstrate that the defects are not

consistent with wounds resulting from explosions or combat, but rather reflect

postmortem taphonomy. They show that the most likely scenario is that these

remains, which would have been well preserved at the bottom of the ocean,

were affected by the recovery of the cannons from the ship several years after it

sank. This research demonstrates the utility of careful analysis of taphonomy,

patterning, and context for providing nuanced interpretations of trauma and


Vincent H. Stefan (Chapter 4) discusses the complexities associated with

determining manner of death in cases of gunshot trauma. In this chapter he

establishes criteria for the identification of victims of homicide vs. suicide,

including examination of the context of the remains (buried, unburied,

restrained, not restrained). He also suggests criteria based on location of

wounds and number of gunshot wounds that will contribute to future investi-

gations of gunshot trauma. He cautions, however, that, while these different

criteria may be more consistent with homicide or suicide, in the end it is all of

the observations about the trauma made by an investigator that will lead to

determining the cause of death. This chapter provides an important, detailed

method for considering key aspects of context and patterns of trauma for

differentiating victims in both forensic and bioarchaeological investigations

of gunshot trauma.

Andrew C. Seidel and Laura C. Fulginiti (Chapter 5) investigate victims and

perpetrators of dismemberment cases in forensic contexts. This chapter pro-

vides important insight into trends in the nature of relationships between

victims and perpetrators. They demonstrate that often in dismemberment cases

the victims and perpetrators know each other prior to the violent act and also

explore the degree of those relationships for Maricopa County (intimate rela-

tionships or not intimate). Significantly, this work also offers a unique analysis

of sex differences among perpetrators of dismemberments. For example, they

provide evidence that female perpetrators of dismemberments are far

more likely to have intimate relationships with their victims. In considering

the connections between victims and aggressors, this research illuminates the

social patterning of this unique type of violence.

Cheryl P. Anderson (Chapter 6) examines commingled remains from a cave

burial site in Northern Mexico to investigate whether the deceased represent

victims or venerated ancestors. This research utilizes ethnographic and ethno-

historic information to investigate Rarámuri burial practices and beliefs about

the dead. It also reconstructs some aspects of the political and social environ-

ment from Spanish accounts of groups living in the region. Based on the

8 Introduction

terms of use, available at https://www.cambridge.org/core/terms. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107051409.002
Downloaded from https://www.cambridge.org/core. University of Central Florida, on 01 Dec 2021 at 17:29:07, subject to the Cambridge Core

available evidence, the author concludes that, while most individuals likely

were not victims of violence, at least one, and possibly a total of three, shows

evidence of trauma that is more consistent with violence then burial ritual or

ancestor veneration. This chapter demonstrates how consideration of these

sources of information may be useful for identifying victims of violence in

complex mortuary assemblages.

1.4.2 Ritual and performative violence

Ryan P. Harrod and Debra L. Martin (Chapter 7) examined the human remains

from populations living in the ancient Southwest and found that some exhibit

the “signature” of captivity and slavery on their bodies. Multiple healed head

wounds, healed fractured bones, nutritional anemias, and infections all point to

a life of violent beatings and inadequate living conditions. The violent acts

involved with taking captives are usually very ritualized and performative,

with males being murdered, and females and children being taken captive. The

trauma on their bodies suggests multiple beatings across the course of the

lifetime. From these case studies of captives who died young and with many

traumatic and pathological injuries, a more detailed understanding of how

captives were treated, as well as their symbolic and ritualized use as a show

of power and domination, is gained.

Rebecca Storey (Chapter 8) explores the relationships between victims and

aggressors in Maya warfare and sacrifice. This research discusses evidence for

the importance of warfare among elite males in Maya society and the signifi-

cance of trophies of war, specifically skull masks that were decorated and then

worn by the aggressors. The author provides bioarchaeological evidence for

the existence of these trophies and confirms that they likely represent elite

victims of ritual violence. These trophies would have bestowed greater prestige

to the perpetrators during life and the significance of these violent acts

continued to link them to their victims after death. This contribution provides

unique insight into considering the complex relationships between victims and

perpetrators of ritual violence and how they may extend beyond the actual

violent event.

Christina Torres-Rouff and Laura M. King (Chapter 9) consider patterns of

cranial trauma, in particular nasal fractures, as evidence for face-to-face con-

flict at oases in the San Pedro de Atacama during the Middle Period. They

demonstrate a higher incidence of nasal fractures among males, although some

females were also affected, and argue that this form of violence may have had

social significance. The antemortem nature of these wounds provides evidence

that, while this face-to-face violence was an important part of society, it was

Debra L. Martin and Cheryl P. Anderson 9

terms of use, available at https://www.cambridge.org/core/terms. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107051409.002
Downloaded from https://www.cambridge.org/core. University of Central Florida, on 01 Dec 2021 at 17:29:07, subject to the Cambridge Core


often non-lethal. This case may not have victims and perpetrators in the usual

sense; rather the authors suggest that these fractures may result from some sort

of culturally approved violence for resolving problems between adult individ-

uals. This contributes to furthering our understanding of how violence may

potentially be used for addressing social problems within a culture and how

this type of violence may exhibit different patterns.

William N. Duncan and Christopher M. Stojanowski (Chapter 10) provide

an analysis of a sixteenth-century calvaria from Georgia thought to belong to a

martyred Spanish priest, Pedro de Corpa. Through the process of trying to

determine whether or not this calvaria does in fact belong to Pedro de Corpa,

the authors explore why some bodies are of greater interest to forensic

anthropologists and bioarchaeologists than other bodies. They demonstrate

that in this case there are two important factors leading to the high degree of

interest. The first is that defacement of the body of the deceased has increased

the degree to which it is held sacred. The second reason is that anthropological

investigation of this calvaria has amplified the mystery surrounding it as well

as the meaning associated with it. This chapter carefully considers how

different groups within a community may be impacted differently by bioarch-

aeological and forensic research and represents an example of positive inter-

action between the anthropologists and the larger public.

1.4.3 Violence and identity

Heidi J. Bauer-Clapp and Ventura R. Pérez (Chapter 11) examine signs of

structural and direct violence on the remains of Yaqui individuals killed in a

massacre. The results of their analysis, demonstrating both trauma and signs of

physiological stress, illuminate the extensive violence against the Yaqui per-

petrated by the Mexican government during the nineteenth and early twentieth

centuries. Through the repatriation of these remains to the Yaqui, the authors

also aided in the transformation of the bodies of the victims into part of the

Yaqui heritage, continuing to tell the story of violence and sacrifice to future

generations. This research exemplifies how bioarchaeological and forensic

research may further the understanding of violence while positively engaging

the communities who are affected.

Kathryn M. Baustian (Chapter 12) explores signs of violence at the Ances-

tral Pueblo site Grasshopper Pueblo, finding evidence for antemortem trauma

as well as scalping, and questions prior views of a peaceful community. The

author considers a number of possibilities to explain the clear signs of violence

on some of the remains, including warfare and raiding and different types of

intra-community violence. She concludes that external violence likely played

10 Introduction

terms of use, available at https://www.cambridge.org/core/terms. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107051409.002
Downloaded from https://www.cambridge.org/core. University of Central Florida, on 01 Dec 2021 at 17:29:07, subject to the Cambridge Core

a role, especially among those with evidence for scalping, but cautions that

identification of specific perpetrators is problematic based on the available

evidence. The careful analysis presented in this chapter demonstrates the utility

of considering the patterning of skeletal trauma when interpreting relationships

between victims and perpetrators.

Elizabeth M. DeVisser, Krista E. Latham, and Marisol Intriago Leiva

(Chapter 13) consider the impact of violence perpetrated by the Pinochet

regime on Chilean national identity through the examination of the victims

from the Patio 29 mass grave. The authors discuss the efforts put forward by

the forensic anthropologists working on these human rights cases to use all

available lines of evidence to identify victims correctly and provide closure

for their families. They highlight the challenges associated with victim identi-

fication in the Patio 29 cases, but also the profound importance of these

identifications for the families and the community impacted by the violence.

This example demonstrates how forensic anthropologists, through identifica-

tion of the remains of victims, can assist with the restoration of national


Danielle Kurin (Chapter 14) discusses violence before and after the collapse

of the Wari Empire in Peru through the examination of cranial trauma and how

it affected different social groups, seen through different types of cranial

modification. The results presented by the author show a relationship between

social identity and trauma among the Chanka for both adults and subadults,

suggesting that some groups may have been more at risk for violence and

recidivism. This demonstrates that practices of violence changed following the

Wari collapse, including the identification of a specific subgroup(s) among the

Chanka to be targeted as the victims of violence. This chapter significantly

contributes to growing literature that seeks to understan

Sharp force trauma relating to cultural anthropology

Aggression and Violent Behavior 27 (2016) 158–163

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Aggression and Violent Behavior

Causes and cures V: The sociology and anthropology of violence☆

Bandy X. Lee
Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA

☆ N.B.: This is a continuation of “The Causes and Cures
E-mail address: bandy.lee@yale.edu.

1359-1789/© 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

a b s t r a c t

a r t i c l e i n f o

Article history:
Received 13 November 2015
Received in revised form 27 February 2016
Accepted 1 March 2016
Available online 3 March 2016

The past two years have been a landmark moment for violence prevention, with the publication of The Global Sta-
tus Report on Violence Prevention 2014; a historic resolution on violence by the 67th World Health Assembly; and
the release of multiple documents on violence by international and United Nations entities, with a corresponding
building of momentum in scholarship. Most notably, in September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly
adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, addressing the need for violence prevention at an unprec-
edented scale. In this context, more than ever, violence studies have become a field of its own right. Still, a sys-
tematic approach of the topic has been lacking, and no textbook yet synthesizes the knowledge of multiple
disciplines toward a cogent understanding. This article is the fourth of a series of fifteen articles that will cover,
as an example, an outline of the Global Health Studies course entitled, “Violence: Causes and Cures,” reviewing
the major bio-psycho-social and structural-environmental perspectives on violence. Based on the tenet that in-
dividual violence does not occur in isolation from social and cultural forces, it reviews the contributions of soci-
ology and anthropology. Although much of sociology has shied away from the topic of violence other than
through its study of deviance and crime, and much of anthropology’s ethnographic methods have made research
difficult in contexts of violent conflict, both bring new potentials. Concepts such as social belonging and cultural
symbols can bring important insight into the nature of violence.

© 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Violence studies
Collective violence


1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159
2. Evolution of the two disciplines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159
3. Sociological theories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 160
4. Anthropological perspectives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 161
5. Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 161
Acknowledgment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 162
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 162

We are living through a landmark moment for violence prevention.
The past two years, especially, have seen an outpouring of documents
reflecting a growing focus on the problem of violence and multilateral
collaborations to solve it. In December 2014, for example, the World
Health Organization, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime,
and the United Nations Development Programme (WHO, UNODC, &
UNDP, 2014) joined forces to launch The Global Status Report on Violence
Prevention 2014, detailing the efforts of 133 countries to address inter-
personal violence. It is the first major report on violence since the
World Report on Violence and Health (Krug, Dahlberg, Mercy, Zwi, &

of Violence” series.

Lozano, 2002), an influential document that consolidated all the
existing science on violence for the first time. In the same year, the
67th World Health Assembly (WHA, 2014) adopted a historic resolution
addressing violence, bringing particularly to focus women, children, and
other vulnerable members of the populations subject to systematic
structural and institutional violence. Furthermore, Global Study on Ho-
micide 2013: Trends, Contexts, Data (UNODC, 2014), Hidden in Plain
Sight: A Statistical Analysis of Violence against Children (United Nations
Children’s Fund [UNICEF], 2014a), Ending Violence against Children: Six
Strategies for Action (UNICEF, 2014b), Preventing Suicide: A Global Imper-
ative (WHO, 2014), and Preventing Youth Violence: Taking Action and
Generating Evidence (WHO, 2015), all appeared within a two-year
time span, highlighting some of the major forms of violence. Most

159B.X. Lee / Aggression and Violent Behavior 27 (2016) 158–163

notably, on September 25, 2015, the United Nations General Assembly
adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (United Nations
[UN], 2015), addressing the need for violence prevention at an unprec-
edented scale and recognizing the interdependence between sustained
peace and sustainable development. In this context, more than ever, it is
time for violence studies to become a field of its own right, with
university-level instruction capable of addressing the complexities and
commonalities of the different forms of violence beyond the current
“niche-based” study. Meanwhile, ongoing worldwide events point to
the importance of this life-or-death issue and the need for a cogent un-
derstanding that is more than the sum of its parts.

Over several issues, Aggression and Violent Behavior has graciously
offered to publish a lecture series that has been implemented through
the Global Health Studies Program at Yale College in a course entitled,
“Violence: Causes and Cures.” While it does not purport to be the defin-
itive sequence for reviewing all the major bio-psycho-social and
structural-environmental perspectives on violence, it is a proposal for
a systematic approach. This article consists of the fifth of this fifteen ar-
ticle series, which carries the following order:

1. Introduction: Toward a New Definition
2. The Biology of Violence
3. The Psychology of Violence
4. The Symbolism of Violence (in this issue)
5. The Sociology and Anthropology of Violence (in this issue)
6. The Political Science and Economics of Violence
7. Structural Violence
8. Environmental Violence
9. Consequences of Violence

10. Criminal Justice Approaches
11. International Law Approaches
12. Public Health Approaches
13. Global Medicine Approaches
14. Nonviolence Approaches
15. Synthesis and Integration

1. Introduction

Man is by nature a social animal.
-Aristotle, The Politics (fourth century B.C.).

Sociology and anthropology can illumine a great deal about violence.
Sociology as a field deals with the scientific study of human society and
social behavior. It advances our understanding of the bio-psycho-social-
environmental nature of human behavior (Lee, 2015a), by revealing that
what appear to be purely individual actions do not occur in isolation
from social forces. It thus interconnects relationships, the family, the
community, and society. Anthropology is the scientific study of human-
ity, which describes the workings of societies around the world through
comparative and cross-cultural (sometimes historical) methods, espe-
cially through the investigation of cultures outside one’s own. While so-
ciology and anthropology have developed independently as fields and
typically have their own departments, they have converged in methods
and populations of study over time. For this reason, we group them to-
gether in this article, even though the large body of contribution from
each field would merit more than an article of each its own; in fact,
each would probably require an entire book to do the content justice.
However, the aim of this article series is to show an overview of how
to think about violence from the perspective of the important fields of
study and not to be comprehensive in coverage of each of these fields.

For instance, sociology shows us that things that seem random at the
individual level can make sense at the societal level, as we see in epi-
demics of homicide or suicide (Lee, Wexler & Gilligan, 2014). One
might, and many have, practiced it as “psychology writ large”; in other
words, it studies the dynamics of society instead of the individual. An-
thropology probes into culture, or what Ruth Benedict (1934) has

described as “personality writ large.” French sociologist Émile
Durkheim (1897), for example, showed that even the most private act
of suicide had more to do with societal than individual characteristics.
This holds all the more true for interpersonal and collective violence,
as anthropology has revealed, through its study of the ethnic, gendered,
class-based dimensions of violence (Rylko-Bauer, Whiteford, & Farmer,
2009). A major contribution of anthropology in the study of human so-
ciety has been to break the near-exclusive focus on the Global North.
American anthropologist Franz Boas (1938), by withholding theory be-
cause of the complexity of cultures, encouraged detailed, objective re-
cording and study of ethnographic findings; this led to the pioneering
approach of studying cultures from their own historical background
and perspective (Moore, 2008). The fields are not without limitations
in the study of violence, however, and their strengths can also be their
weaknesses. The intimate methods of anthropology have made contexts
of violent conflict difficult to research, and its disciplinary purview of
being anti-theoretical and relativistic has made it blind to genocides
about to happen (Scheper-Hughes, 2004). Much of sociology has also
shied away from violence research (Walby, 2012), other than its some-
what remote subfield criminology, which focuses on criminal violence
and crimes that are convictable within the social institution of criminal
justice. Nevertheless, these two fields have great potential to make
some of the most important contributions to a broader understanding
of violence.

2. Evolution of the two disciplines

Social analysis began far before the existence of any discipline. In
Western tradition, this is thought to have begun with Ancient Greek
philosopher Plato, who was concerned with proper government and
the application of laws. In East Asian tradition, Ancient Chinese philoso-
phers such as Confucius focused on avoiding chaos and violence
through the emphasis on social roles. In medieval Islam, Ibn Khaldun,
a fourteenth-century North African scholar, is considered as the father
of sociology; he expounded in Muqaddimah his social-scientific reason-
ing on social cohesion and social conflict (Enan, 2007). In France, the
philosopher of science Auguste Comte (1848) coined the term sociology,
proposing sociological positivism as a remedy for social ills. Durkheim
(1894) rejected this logic, but along with Karl Marx and Max Weber
from Germany, formally established the field as a science of social insti-
tutions. Durkheim’s (1897) case study of suicide rates among Catholic
and Protestant populations distinguished sociological analysis from
psychology or philosophy. By carefully examining suicide statistics in
different police districts, he attempted to demonstrate that Catholic
communities have a lower suicide rate than that of Protestants,
something he attributed to social—as opposed to individual or
psychological—causes (Wacquant, 1993). Through such studies he pos-
ited that sociology would be able to determine whether any given soci-
ety is “healthy” or “pathological” and seek social reform to counter
organic breakdown, or social anomie (a lack of moral standards in an in-
dividual or a group due to the loss of social bonds). Sociology quickly
evolved as an academic response to the perceived challenges of moder-
nity, such as industrialization, urbanization, secularization, and the pro-
cess of “rationalization” (Habermas, 1987). Sociology interacted with
psychology, jurisprudence, economics, and philosophy, with theories
being appropriated in a variety of different fields (Giddens, Duneier, &
Applebaum, 2007). Since 1894, American sociologists George Herbert
Mead (1934) and Charles Cooley (Cooley & Angell, 1930) influenced
the rise of social psychology and the symbolic interactionism of the mod-
ern Chicago School. Symbolic interactionism emphasizes social meanings
that individuals create through their interactions with each other
(Dennis & Martin, 2005). The contemporary discipline of sociology has
two major theoretical frameworks, among others: the historical founda-
tions of functionalist (Durkheim) and conflict-centered (Marx) ac-
counts of social structure (Abend, 2008). Functionalism focuses on
social institutions, the norms they create, and the effects these norms


160 B.X. Lee / Aggression and Violent Behavior 27 (2016) 158–163

have on behavior (Jones, 2007). Social conflict theory explains social be-
havior by describing how individuals compete for power (Dahrendorf,

Cross-cultural records of local characteristics date as far back as the
early writings of Mesopotamia (Third Dynasty of Ur), the Sanskrit
texts of Hindu cosmology (the Purāṇas), the early imperial records of
China (Qin Dynasty), and the father of history Herodotus’ accounts of
cultures beyond the Hellenic realm (Raaflaub & Talbert, 2009). Anthro-
pology as a field, however, began much later. Danish pioneering scien-
tists Caspar and Thomas Bartholins (1647) defined anthropology as
“the science that treats of man.” French philosopher Jean-Jacques
Rousseau (1755), who formulated ideas on the natural man, without
the oppressive effects of Western civilization, had profound effects on
the field. However, research only continued with short-lived organiza-
tions such as the Société Ethnologique de Paris, the Ethnological Society
of New York, and the Ethnological Society of London in the nineteenth
century, for the purposes of liberal, anti-slavery, and pro-human-
rights causes. They maintained international connections and published
their own journals, until the twentieth century, when many thousands
of higher educational institutions established anthropology depart-
ments (Eriksen & Nielsen, 2001). Boas and Polish anthropologist
Bronisław Malinowski (1944) established the field’s emphasis on
long-term, in-depth examination and participant experiential immer-
sion. The findings have been used to frame cultural critiques against ra-
cial ideologies, gender inequality, and more recently, post-colonial
oppression in favor of multiculturalism (Eriksen, 2004). The cultural an-
thropological tradition is said to have originated in North America,
while the social anthropological tradition has its roots in Europe
(Rapport, 2014). Cultural anthropology emphasizes culturally patterned
thought and behavior (Winthrop, 1991), whereas social anthropology is
dedicated to the study of distant civilizations in their traditional and
contemporary forms (Lewis, 2009). Sociology and anthropology have
merged methods and subjects of study over time. Despite their broad
sociocultural perspectives, neither has yet advanced major theories
nor concepts on violence (Accomazzo, 2012; Malesevic, 2010), and
these remain areas of great potential exploration.

3. Sociological theories

While human society is enormous and highly complex, it is possible
to formulate theories about it and to test them, which is why sociology
is a science, and a science that is very useful to studying violence. In-
deed, the nature of violence forces us to see that individuals are not sep-
arate but belong to a wider unit of organization, for without the wider
context, even individual violence remains unpredictable and inexplica-
ble. It is impossible to cover all that sociology has to offer in the under-
standing of violence: its topics of study include the causes of crime,
poverty, and many other social problems that are closely associated
with it. However, a few principles are worth highlighting. The first is
functionalism: it proposes that the social organization functions as a
whole, with norms and institutions acting as “organs” that work togeth-
er within the larger “body” of society (Spencer, 1876). Much as in sys-
tems theory of biology (Lee, 2015b), we learn that, not only is society
not reducible to the dynamics of individuals alone, but is also possible
to study how it behaves just as one can study how an individual be-
haves. In fact, functionalism has frequently looked to biology for its clos-
est and most compatible model for conceptualizing structure beyond
the individual parts (Giddens, 1984). Societies can take on characteris-
tics that mimic individual organisms, have collective agency, and act
as an indivisible unit. This is how sociology can be a systematic study
of social life and is important to the study of violence, which is largely
concerned with uncovering causes and prevention methods for a phe-
nomenon that we designate to be a social problem.

Unlike functionalist theories that emphasize the cohesiveness of sys-
tems, as in healthy organisms, conflict theory critiques the inequality be-
tween particular groups, as in the fragmented states of pathology.

History is a natural course of evolution that succeeds or fails to correct
these ills, as the father of social conflict theory Marx (Marx & Engels,
1848) has described:

Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-
master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood
in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted,
now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in
a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common
ruin of the contending classes (pp. 7–8).

Marx rejected the prevailing explanation of social problems in terms
of the shortcomings of individuals. Together with his collaborator Frie-
drich Engels, they defined class consciousness as workers’ awareness of
themselves as a unified class in opposition to a capitalist system that op-
presses them.

Within this larger scope, interactionism has developed and become
one of the dominant sociological perspectives of today. It derives social
processes (such as conflict, cooperation, identity formation) from
human interaction and is the study of how individuals act in society. Sym-
bolic interaction, in particular, has highlighted subjective meanings and
the empirical unfolding of social processes, creating the influential Chica-
go School before and after World War II (Fine, 1995). This approach
moves away from the macro- to the micro-level to analyze society in
terms of the shared reality that people construct through their interac-
tions. People use symbolic communications to understand and navigate
through the world, contributing to a complex, ever-changing web of col-
lective meaning-construction (Macionis & Gerber, 2010). Shaped by
Weber (1922), George Herbert Mead (1964), and Erving Goffman
(1959), among others, this perspective best bridges the symbolic charac-
ter of human beings as discussed in the preceding article (Lee, 2016–in
this issue) and the social reality we construct through meaningful sym-
bols. Relevant to this is social belonging, as Weber articulated, as a funda-
mental human need, deemed essential for optimal functioning
(Easterbrook & Vignoles, 2013). Factors creating a strong sense of belong-
ing include relationships characterized by interdependence, frequent in-
teractions, and intimacy (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). A lack of belonging
has been connected to increased risk of self-harm and suicide
(Timmons, Selby, Lewinsohn, & Joiner, 2011). Related to belongingness
is the concept of social inclusion and exclusion, which have strong links
to beliefs in equality and inequality (Richmond & Saloojee, 2006). Move-
ment toward political inclusion, for example, is a way to reduce political
violence and violent protests (Osakwe, 2012). Similarly, reducing inequal-
ities in gender norms can help reduce violence against women (Hilbert &
Krishnan, 2000), while having strong cross-ethnic friendships is correlat-
ed with positive attitudes about other racial groups (Tropp & Prenovost,

Utilitarianism, or exchange theory, explains social stability and change
as a process of negotiations and exchanges between parties. It upholds
two major assumptions: (a) cost–benefit analyses and comparisons of al-
ternatives are the basis of human relationships; and (b) individuals, in
interacting with others, will always seek to maximize their wins. Similar
to rational choice theory in economics, rational actors are assumed to
have a knowledge of alternatives; a knowledge of the consequences of
the various alternatives; an ordering of preferences of outcomes; and a
decision to select among the possible alternatives (Whitford, 2002). Un-
like economic exchange, however, the elements of social exchange are
variable over time, from person to person, and not reducible to a single
quantitative exchange rate (West & Turner, 2007). Proponents of this the-
ory include George C. Homans (1961), Peter Blau (1964), and Richard
Emerson (1976). March and Simon (1958) brought nuances to the theory
by noting that an individual’s rationality is bounded by the context or or-
ganizational setting.

Various syntheses have emerged from these approaches, and sociol-
ogy is helpful in its contribution of the ecological framework of violence,
whereby levels of individual, relationships, community, and society are

161B.X. Lee / Aggression and Violent Behavior 27 (2016) 158–163

in dynamic interrelation. The field helps us to navigate the not-so-easily
resolvable dichotomies of structure and agency, subjectivity and objec-
tivity, and statics and dynamics. In other words, do individuals make
free choices, or are there factors that limit these choices? Is observation
primarily based in individual perception, or are there external, shared
realities? Lastly, is it more useful to employ methods of historical evolu-
tion, or snapshots of social life? Each of these questions have implica-
tions for understanding violence.

4. Anthropological perspectives

While sociology attempts to describe the workings of society
through one or more grand theories, anthropology is more concerned
with demonstrating variety and respecting the range of manifestations
that human societies can have. Hence, in progressing in the bio-psy-
cho-social-environmental paradigm of human affairs, we are moving
from the intrapersonal to the interpersonal, and then from within-
society to between-society comparisons. More concerned about show-
ing than telling, anthropology is largely a cataloging of different cultures
by time period or geographic region. While traditional emphasis has
been on remote regions, more recently looking “across the tracks,”
such as in urban anthropology in the United States, has become popular
(Hannerz, 1980). Regardless of proximity or distance, some principles
remain important, such as the use of both emic (insider) and etic (out-
sider) observations in studying a culture. These derive from the linguis-
tic terms of phonemic and phonetic: the former relate to language-
specific sound units that a native speaker recognizes (but a foreigner
does not), while the latter refers to objective, universal sounds that
are common across languages. Phonemes solidify in the brain after a
certain age range, and therefore when one tries to learn a foreign lan-
guage, one carries the phonemes of one’s own language to the new lan-
guage, resulting in an “accent”. Widening this distinction to the study of
cultures, insider perspectives can reveal meanings and nuances of par-
ticular cultural features, while outsider points of view can grasp the
uniqueness and commonality of those features. The ability to incorpo-
rate both perspectives is an essential skill, since the pervasive nature
of culture makes it difficult to describe when one is too close, while un-
derstanding its intricacies is difficult from the outside. Furthermore,
there is the challenge of making “objective” descriptions without bring-
ing in one’s own terminology, since no observer is culturally neutral.

These concepts then bring up universalist versus relativist notions. A
universalist would say that violence, like any illness, is innate (e.g., a bi-
ological “instinct”) and ubiquitous, and differences are superficial be-
cause culture is “added onto” the universal core. Psychiatric disorders,
for example, were once considered universal at the core with only dif-
ferent expressions based on different cultural conventions. However,
even schizophrenia, which has an almost uniform prevalence of one
percent throughout the world, is found to have better prognosis in
less economically developed countries (Jablensky et al., 1994). As stud-
ies increasingly reveal that not only does culture shape meaning and
significance for the individual but also determines the causes, manifes-
tations, and final course of many major psychiatric illnesses, medical an-
thropologists have increasingly espoused relativist positions. This holds
all the more true for violence, which has fluctuated widely in type and
prevalence across cultures and over time.

Anthropology has studied violent societies and peaceful societies. As
much as violence is said to have been ubiquitous, a lot of societies are
not at war, most societies most of the time are not at war, and even so-
cieties at war are not violent all the time. Therefore, it is very difficult to
make the claim that war has been omnipresent throughout history. On
the other hand, the rates of violence we currently measure are unaccept-
able, given the detriment to human life and the knowledge that it is pre-
ventable. It seems more productive, rather, to consider the cultural
characteristics that peaceful societies carry, to help inform possible
means of prevention. A review of 24 peaceful societies (Bonta, 1996)
has shown, for example, that their ways of conflict resolution differ

from the management systems found in other, more violent, societies
and that their worldviews of peacefulness and structures to reinforce
those worldviews help to distinguish them. They put into question no-
tions about conflict and conflict resolution that high-income-country
scholars commonly hold: namely, that violent conflict is inevitable in all
societies; that punishment and armed force prevent internal and external
violence; that political structures are necessary to prevent violent con-
flicts; and that violent means are positive and necessary. The review re-
veals that over half of the peaceful societies have no recorded violence;
they rarely punish other adults (apart from the threat of ostracism);
they handle conflicts with outside societies in the same peaceful ways
that they approach internal conflicts; they do not look to outside govern-
ments when they have internal disputes; and they have a highly negative
view of conflict.

The existence of peaceful societies supports the highly symbolic and
subjective, rather than practical and objective, nature of violence. The
notion of violent imaginaries arises from the view that violence needs to
be imagined in order to be carried out (Schmidt & Schröder, 2001).
Comparing cultures points to the universal underneath the different
patterns, and that is the symbolic nature of human beings (Lee, 2016–in
this issue): cultures, like individuals, do not strike out at random but fol-
low cultural norms of appropriate action, shared moral imperatives, rites,
rituals, and meaning. For example, an important code of legitimating war
is historicity—symbolically reinterpreting and reenacting prior wars,
fighting from memory or over memory, such as the power to establish
one’s view of the past against rival claims. American anthropologist
Veena Das (2000) notes a new kind of violence that has emerged in the
last few decades, going beyond contractual violence to involve global
flows of images, capital, and people that enmesh with identity forma-
tion within the same local world. In other words, wars are not only
fought over resources but are a resource for making and remaking
worldviews. For example, violence in Northern Ireland has helped to di-
vide or to distinguish between groups (Feldman, 1991). Violent imagi-
naries form through narratives, performances, and imageries, which
become authoritative justifications for war, which are contingent on
the positions and strategic interests of those who disseminate them.
Stories can keep alive the memory of past glories (Meeker, 1979;
Rosaldo, 1980) or perceived injustices (Malkki, 1995; Swedenburg,
1995), which states can capitalize upon to promote violence to their
own ends (Čolović, 1995). Performances are public rituals in which an-
tagonistic relationships are staged and intensified, such as the arousal of
war frenzy in fascist Germany and Italy and post-September 11 United
States (Kellner, 2010). Visual imageries such as banners, murals, or the
media (Jarman, 1997; Peteet, 1994) can also powerfully state positions
of antagonism. While these are seldom entirely new inventions or dis-
continuous from realities or past events, a reframing for current applica-
tion instigates action. They also occur where symbolic representations
are under threat: for example, just as globalization has made identities
tied to space and history more fluid, nationalism, ethnicity, and religion
have become high currencies in conflict (Appadurai, 1998; Kapferer,
1988). State failure can sometimes facilitate subsequent political violence
by making these representations more prominent (Kosmatopoulos,
2011). To view contemporary ethnic or religious conflicts outside
of these symbolic interpretations is to miss their meaning; violent
imaginaries become violent practices because of their social and cultural

5. Conclusion

Principles of sociology and anthropology can illumine a great deal
about the social and cultural dynamics of violence. Violence is gaining
more focus as a topic of study within these fields as well, especially as
perspectives from the Global South and of minorities, and women gar-
ner ground, but also because of the greater attention on violence as it
changes in form and visibility both politically and privately. For exam-
ple, research on violence in relation to inequalities of gender, ethnicity,


162 B.X. Lee / Aggression and Violent Behavior 27 (2016) 158–163

sexuality, and religion is advancing our understanding of new forms of
violence (Ertürk and Purkayastha, 2012; Iganski, 2008). Experiences of
postcolonialism, war, and conflict zones are important in these new
forms of violence (Caforio and Kümmel,

Sharp force trauma relating to cultural anthropology



Tania Delabarde,1 Ph.D. and Bertrand Ludes,2 M.D., Ph.D.

Missing in Amazonian Jungle: A Case Report
of Skeletal Evidence for Dismemberment*

ABSTRACT: This case study presents the results of the recovery and analysis of three sets of disarticulated and incomplete human remains
found in Ecuador, within the Amazonian jungle. Recovered body parts sustained extensive sharp force trauma situated on different aspect of the skel-
eton. The anthropological examination (bone reassembly, biological profile) was followed by a detailed analysis of cut marks, including a basic
experimental study on pig bones to demonstrate that dismemberment may have occurred within a certain amount of time after death. Despite the
location (deep into the Amazonian jungle) and the perpetrator’s actions (dismemberment and dispersion of body parts in a river), forensic work both
on the field and in laboratory allowed identification of the victims and the reconstruction of the sequence of events.

KEYWORDS: forensic science, dismemberment, cut marks, chain saw, machete, postmortem interval

Dismemberment, the intentional separation of body segments, is
known to be the major postmortem activity performed by humans
on the remains of others (1). The main objective is to prevent iden-
tification of the victim by destroying body integrity as well as
criminal evidence. Consequently, dismemberment is generally asso-
ciated with homicide. Nevertheless, some authors presented cases
where dismemberment injuries were linked to the cause of death
(e.g., dismemberment as means of torture) (2,3). Consequently, it is
essential if possible to determine the nature and sequence of inju-
ries (perimortem ⁄ postmortem). Dismemberment patterns are of
particular importance as the actions and instruments used are a
clear expression of the perpetrator’s intentions (4). Localized
dismemberments involve the separation of some parts of the body
and are commonly associated with hindered identifications, easing
transport, or body disposal, while generalized dismemberments
involve cuts to all aspects of body and are more often correlated
with specific intentions (i.e., disregard of the victim or hiding
evidence in sexual homicides). Specific capacities of the perpetrator
(knowledge of anatomy, use of specific instrument) could be also
determined based on the analysis of cut marks.

Sharp force trauma refers to injury produced by instrument that
may incise, cut, chop, dent, or crush the bone tissue. Generally,
injuries related to dismemberment are caused by cutting (knives),
chopping (axes), and chiseling (saw). When a body is well pre-
served, analysis of soft tissue injuries represents the first step. Vari-
ous aspects of the lesion usually present sharp force characteristics
(e.g., incised wound with an associated groove or cut in the

underlying bone) with severed skin and adjacent tissues (5). Never-
theless, soft tissue injuries linked to dismemberment do not provide
as much relevant data as bone tissue. The response to sharp force
injury will greatly differ according to the biomechanical properties
of the involved tissue. Because of their elastic limit and tolerance,
soft tissue will be more damaged and stretched, which is not indic-
ative of the causative instrument. Many publications demonstrate
the potential of cut marks in bone to identify the causative instru-
ment and lead to the perpetrator (4,6–13). Like other mechanisms
of injury, analysis of sharp force trauma in bone is based on frac-
ture patterns and defect morphology. Variability of wounds depends
on the physical properties of causative instrument and the biome-
chanical properties of the affected bone (7). Because of the cost
and gain of time, toothed instruments, and more specifically saws,
are preferably used in dismemberment cases. During cutting, striae
are formed by the uneven action of teeth on the wall of the cut.
Power saws with small teeth leave the finest striations, while hand
saws with fewer teeth cause most prominent striae. The number of
striae correlates to the number of teeth. Therefore, marks will be
used to determine general class characteristics (size, shape, width,
and set of teeth) as well as the sawing action of the user (12).

Case History and Methods

Between December 2006 and March 2007, three sets of disartic-
ulated human remains exhibiting extensive sharp force trauma were
found in different locations within a small area of the Amazonian
Jungle in the Ecuadorian territory. In August 2006, two European
tourists were reported missing in this area. On December 19, 2006,
the lower half of a body designated as set #1 (partially skeletonized
pelvic girdle, both legs and foot) was found by local fishermen,
lying on the border at the confluence between Pastaza and Puyo
Rivers. The body part was still wearing underwear and pants. On
February 22, 2007, the upper half of a body designated as set #2
was found in a plastic bag lying on the shore of the Paztaza River.
The remains (head, trunk, and arms) were partially disarticulated
and skeletonized and associated with a sports jacket and tee-shirt.

1French Institute of Andean Studies, Whymper 442 y CoruÇa, Quito,

2Institute of Legal Medicine, 11 rue de Humann, Universit� de Stras-
bourg, 4 rue Kirschleger, 67000 Strasbourg, F-67085 Strasbourg Cedex,

*Presented at the 60th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of
Forensic Sciences, February 22, 2008, in Washington, DC.

Received 31 Dec. 2008; and in revised form 1 Mar. 2009; accepted 29
Mar. 2009.

[Correction added after online publication 25 March 2010: Throughout
the text, ‘‘pelvic griddle’’ has been corrected to read ‘‘pelvic girdle.’’]

J Forensic Sci, July 2010, Vol. 55, No. 4
doi: 10.1111/j.1556-4029.2010.01367.x

Available online at: interscience.wiley.com

� 2010 American Academy of Forensic Sciences 1105


Evidence of carnivore scavenging was found on distal extremity of
right humerus and proximal extremity of right radius and ulna. On
the March 11, 2007, a third set of human remains designated as set
#3 (pelvic girdle articulated with both femurs) was exhumed from
a grave dug by the Natives. According to their testimony, they
found the body parts lying on the shore of the Paztaza River in
January 2007 and decided to bury them and then called police
investigators. The delay between the finding and exhumation is cor-
related with the location of the scene deep inside the Amazonian
forest. The remains were consistent with a saponified pelvic girdle
articulated to both femurs. This body part was still wearing male

underwear. The three sets of remains were sent to the Quito mortu-
ary, and our participation was requested at this stage.

The forensic examination was performed by two pathologists
and one anthropologist (TD). Examination of the soft tissues and
organs was very limited because of the state of decomposition. The
possibility to assess time since death was restricted, considering that
body parts usually decompose at a slower rate than the whole
corpse and also taking into account the delay between discovery
and forensic examination (no refrigeration was available in this
region, and no specific transport either). The first issue of the
anthropological analysis was to determine the exact number of

TABLE 1—Description and characterization of sharp force injuries sustained by Victim 1 and Victim 2.
(First number in SFT# refers to set of remains: 1.3 designated set #1 injury 3).

SFT# Type Location and Measurements Characteristics

Causative Tool

1.1 False start kerf At the junction between left
iliopubic ramus and
acetabulum (18 · 6 · 5 mm)

Concave defect associated with a fracture running to the medial
aspect of left iliopubic ramus and bone spalling

Power saw
(chain saw?)

1.2 Complete
bone cut

Circular defect located on the
antero-superior aspect of the
left femoral head (19 mm diam

Ablation of a circular portion of left femoral head, clear section
bone cut (polish appearance), no associated fracture. Anatomically
linked to the false start described above (#1.1)

Power saw
(chain saw?)

1.3 Cut mark (slipped

At the level of the superior
anterior margin of acetabulum
(12 · 3 · 1 mm)

Superficial defect with polish appearance; this could be the result of
the tool blade slipping during cutting intent previously described

Power saw
(chain saw?)

1.4 False start kerf At the level of the anterior
inferior iliac spine
(19 · 7 · 15 mm)

Kerf wall exhibits a clean cut section followed by irregular kerf
floor with bone spalling and fractures; this may be linked to
vibration and ⁄ or resistance that led to abandoning this location

Power saw
(chain saw?)

1.5 False start kerf At the level of the inferior
gluteal line (34 · 10 · 13 mm)

Very irregular kerf wall exhibiting tooth bite that reflects a
problematic blade progress (vibrations ⁄ resistance?) that led to
abandoning this location

Power saw
(chain saw?)

1.6 Complete
bone cut

Superior aspect (1 ⁄ 4) of both
ilium bones is missing,
posterior aspect of sacrum is
missing at the level of S1-S2,
left ala is missing

Entrance just above the previously cut section described (#1.5) the
blade progressed through left ilium to sacrum and right ilium
(notch on right sacro-ilac joint and notch on right anterior superior
iliac spine); clear bone section on right os coxa; the anterior aspect
of pelvic girdle exhibits bone spalling associated with running
fractures, exit chipping on the posterior aspect of both os coxae,
exit at the level of the anterior superior iliac spine of right ox coxa
(left to right ⁄ below to above)

Power saw
(chain saw?)

2.1 Complete
bone cut

At the level of the inferior
aspect of body and spinous
process of lumbar 4 (one-third
of the body and inferior
articular facets are missing)

Entrance on the anterior aspect of vertebral body in the midline, cut
section exhibited weavy-edged walls followed by a bone island
located on the posterior portion of vertebral body, suggesting a
slight change of plane stroke but without interruption of the cut
section with an exit in spinous process (front to back ⁄ above
to below)

Power saw
(chain saw?)

2.2 Irregular

At the level of the medial
border of left scapula, there is
a linear incomplete defect
(22 · 5 mm) at 21 mm from
the junction with the scapular

Anteriorly, the defect is more regular, and the inferior end showed a
quadrangular shape associated with a slight displacement with
plastic deformation of the adjacent bone. The medial wall of the
defect is almost linear with some irregularities. Posteriorly, the
medial wall showed jagged edges and detached fragments of bone
associated in the inferior end of the injury with a radiating fracture
line running to the scapular spine. The defect is consistent with
penetrating injury caused by a bladed instrument. The indentation
of the medial wall and detached bone fragments are correlated with
the rotation and withdraw of the blade.

Bladed instrument

3.1 Chop cut mark (12 · 2 mm) is located on the
medial aspect of patellar
surface (left femur)

Small concave defect exhibits bone flaking associated with fracture
(left patella was missing; tibia and fibula are absent)

Heavy blade

3.2 Chop cut mark (10 · 3 mm) is located on the
lateral aspect of patellar
surface (left femur)

The defect exhibits multiple facets and bone flaking associated with
fracture. In both cases, the impact was oblique to the femur, and
injury was inflicted from front to back

Heavy blade

3.4 Complete
bone cut

A quadrangular cut section
(53 · 30 · 1.5 mm) is located
on the medial condyle (left

Entrance on the posterior aspect of medial condyle, cut section
exhibits a bone island suggesting a slight change of plane stroke
but without interruption of the cut section with an exit in the
anterior aspect of medial condyle (back to front)

Power saw
(chain saw?)

3.5 Ovalar cut section (25 · 15 mm) is located on the
lateral condyle (left femur)

The defect exhibits a clear cut surface with polish appearance and
no fracture, probably related to previous cut section (#3.4) as both
condyles of left femur sustained same cutting plane

Power saw
(chain saw?)

3.6 Ovalar cut section (20 ·15 mm) is located on the
inferior margin of lateral
condyle (right femur)

The defect exhibits a clear cut surface with polish appearance and
no fracture (right patella is present and exhibits no evidence of
injury; tibia and fibula are absent)

Power saw
(chain saw?)



individuals through bone reassembly and exclusion. The three sets
of remains showed very different long bone proportions. Following
Konisgberg’s recommendations (14), stature was estimated with
two variables (humerus and femur length). These measurements
allow associating set #2 and set #3 and excluding set #1. The deter-
mination of sex was based upon the morphology of both pelvic gir-
dles (set #1 and set #3) and the skull (set #2) combined with
measurements of long bones from all sets. Age estimation was per-
formed with the combination of traditional methods for adults
based on 4th rib and pubic symphisis (1). The medial extremities
of both clavicles from set #2 were partially fused, and fusion lines
on femoral head were still visible on set #1. The three sets of
remains were determined to belong to two young Caucasian adult
men. Individual characteristics were also relevant on set #2 (head,
trunk, and arms) with the presence of a healed fracture on right
clavicle midshaft and conclusive dental data. Results of the forensic
examination were consistent with the antemortem data of the two
missing persons. Clothing associated with the remains was also rec-
ognized by the families. Considering that osteological data from set
#3 were not relevant to missing person reports, DNA samples were
sent from each of the three sets of remains. Reassembly of the vic-
tims’ remains and identification were later confirmed by DNA

The body parts sustained a number of cut marks situated on dif-
ferent aspects of the skeleton; some of them were not visible when
soft tissue was still attached, showing the importance of bone
cleaning. Each cut mark is listed in Table 1 with the location, num-
ber, type (e.g., false start), and measurements (e.g., width, length,
and depth) following standard anthropological protocols (4,6).
According to Symes recommendation, false starts were distin-
guished from slipped marks of the blade (12) (Table 1).


Victim 1 (set #3)

Victim 1 is only represented by lower half of body and sustained
a complete separation at the level of the pelvic girdle (Fig. 1).
False starts at the level of the left acetabulum were followed by a
successful separation at the level of upper portion of pelvic. Direc-
tion of blade progress is traced from hesitation marks to breakaway
spur: exit chipping is because of bone spalling as teeth exit the
bone and indicate direction of cutting stroke (6). False starts on left
os coxa (Fig. 2), notch on right sacro-iliac joint and right anterior
superior iliac spine, and exit chipping on the posterior aspect of

both os coxae (Fig. 3) suggested that the victim was lying on the
lateral right side, the saw blade entered on left os coxa and
progressed through the sacrum to the right os coxa. Therefore, the
perpetrator probably stood at the back of the victim.

Victim 2 (set #1 and set #2)

Victim 2 was almost complete with the exception of lower legs
and feet. The left scapula exhibited a defect located on the medial
border that is consistent with a penetrating perimortem injury (plas-
tic deformation, jagged edges associated with fractures) caused by
a bladed instrument (Fig. 4). Shape and size of the defect suggest
that the blade could have penetrated enough to perforate the left
lung. It is important however to stress that no evidence of sharp
force trauma was observed on adjacent ribs. This could be corre-
lated with the position of the scapula (e.g., the medial border could
have been almost parallel to the ribs to allow the penetration with-
out damage). The location of this injury is considered as lethal if
untreated. Victim 2 also presented the successful separation of
trunk at the level of lumbar 4th. Orientation of striae and bone
islands suggests that the saw penetrated on the anterior right aspect

FIG. 1—General view of sectioned pelvic girdle from Victim 1.

FIG. 2—View of left coxo-femoral articulation from Victim 1 with false

FIG. 3—Posterior view of left os coxa from Victim 1 with false start and
tooth impression.



of lumbar body at the level of midline and exited through the spi-
nous process (Figs. 5 and 6). The victim was probably lying on the
back, and the perpetrator stood at the right side of the victim
according to blade progress. The distal epiphysis of left femur sus-
tained two injuries inflicted by a heavy blade and two others
related with the use of a power saw (Fig. 7). There was almost cer-
tainly a first attempt to separate legs with a bladed instrument
(anterior aspect of condyles), and then a power saw was success-
fully used (entrance on the posterior aspect of condyle and exit
anteriorly). Chop marks were relevant enough to suspect the use of
a machete. Victim 2 also exhibited some evidence of scavenger
activity with distal end of right humerus and proximal end of right
radius and ulna showing tooth marks. Tooth impressions were con-
sistent with small carnivores. It was then established that the
remains of this individual were accessible for a certain time to

The total number of sharp force injuries identified on the
remains of the two victims is n = 13. Injuries can be divided
according to their morphological characteristics and linked with
estimated causative instruments:

• n = 10 injuries sustained by both victims showed recognizable
features related with the action of a power saw, probably a chain
saw (e.g., weavy-edges walls). However, cut marks were
described individually and a few of them could be related to the
same cutting stroke (e.g., injuries on lateral and medial condyle
of left femur, victim 2).

• n = 2 injuries are consistent with chop wounds (concave defect,
bone flaking) inflicted with a heavy blade, probably a machete
(victim 2).

• n = 1 injury on left scapula is consistent with the penetration
and withdrawal of a blade; size and shape of the defect suggest
a knife (victim 2).

FIG. 4—Anterior view of left scapula from Victim 2 and detail of the
defect located on medial border.

FIG. 5—Caudal view of 4th lumbar from Victim 2 sustaining weavy-edges
walls on complete cut section.

FIG. 6—Lateral left view of 4th lumbar from Victim 2 with complete bone
section (blade entered on the anterior aspect of vertebral body and exited
throught spinous process).

FIG. 7—Left femur of Victim 2 showing quadrangular cut surface result-
ing from a change of direction in blade progress on medial condyle and
ovular cut surface on lateral condyle.


Victim 1 (lower half of body) sustained one type of sharp force
injury (cut marks produced by power saw), while victim 2 (almost
complete body) sustained at least three different types of sharp
force trauma (cut marks produced by power saw, cut marks pro-
duced by heavy blade, and one penetrating injury produced by a

The timing of injuries is one important consideration in the eval-
uation of any skeletal trauma with respect to death (15). In cases of
dismemberment, the main limitation in determining cause of death
is the absence of some organs and parts of the body. The cause of
death was ascertained for victim 2 (perimortem injury on left scap-
ula) but remains unascertained for victim 1. The location of the
other sharp force trauma (trunk and knees) is characteristic of a dis-
memberment activity with the successful separation of body seg-
ments. It is probably not a coincidence if the victim who sustained
cut marks both at the level of trunk and at knee joint was the taller
of the two missing persons (ease transport?). The position of the
bodies and successful separation of body segments (trunk and legs)
suggest postmortem dismemberment. No evidence of defense
wound was found on both victims’ remains. Saw cut characteristics
indicate a mechanically powered saw (high transfer energy suggests
polish and wide kerf widths, and deep false starts) and more specif-
ically a chain saw (weavy-edges walls, irregular concave bending
striae, bone islands). A review of forensic literature helps to support
the hypothesis that cut marks were not presenting characteristics
expected, while fresh bone is exposed to a major trauma inflicted
with a chain saw (4,6–10,12). A basic experimental study on pig
bones was performed to evaluate the postmortem interval between
death and dismemberment as well as confirm causative agent
related to cut sections. Two adult pigs recently killed were sepa-
rated in two groups. Group A represents fresh body parts, while
pig parts from group B were buried wrapped in clothing for
5 months in a place with similar outside environmental conditions
(temperature ⁄ precipitation) as the jungle. A chain saw commonly
used in the Amazonian jungle was employed to dismember fresh
pig parts and then buried samples from group B. Because of bio-
mechanical properties (e.g., elasticity), fresh pigs bone exhibited
less damage, the clearest bone sections (Fig. 8) and noticeable char-
acteristics (e.g., exit chipping) than any body parts buried for
5 months. Comparisons between bone cutting sections from pig
bones and the actual forensic case were similar enough to deter-
mine the chain saw as the causative instrument used for the

successful separation of body segments from the two victims.
Despite the lack of laboratory facilities, this experimental study
helps us to confirm the causative instrument and establishes the
possibility of an interval between death and dismemberment of the
two victims as cut marks exhibit characteristics of bone response in
drying process.


After receiving our forensic report, the police informed us that a
chain saw had been observed but not collected during a search in a
property of colonists close to locations where the three sets of vic-
tims’ remains were discovered. We then participated in a new
search of this property as we suspected that victim bodies could
have remained buried during a certain time before being dismem-
bered and thrown into the river. The chain saw had disappeared in
the meantime, and despite intensive searches, including a canine
team, no more human remains were found. Nevertheless, a grave
was finally located in the proximity of the property previously
mentioned, on the other side of the river. The size and shape of the
grave recovered two complete extended bodies, no clothing was
found but a strong smell and remains of decomposition as well as
the rest of tied ropes were located in the bottom of the grave. Dur-
ing the search in the property, few tools including a machete were
collected as well as a wood support exhibiting numerous cut marks
characteristic of a chain saw. A fireplace was excavated, and
remains of burned synthetic material were identified. Fibers later
analyzed were consistent with synthetic material known to be used
for sleeping bag production. Facing the results of both recovery
scene and the forensic autopsy, the alleged perpetrators confirmed
the burying and dismemberment of the two victims but denied
committing the homicide. In the beginning of December 2006,
when police investigators were searching around, owners of the
property were afraid of the possibility to be link to the homicide
and decided to exhume, dismember, and throw the dead bodies into
the river. According to their testimony, three native men came on
August 6, 2006 transporting the dead bodies of two tourists in their
sleeping bags. They explained that death occurred accidentally dur-
ing a jungle trip, after the drinking of a powerful hallucinogenic
beverage. The first set of remains was found on December 19,
2006, and the two victims went missing on August 5, 2006. Conse-
quently, the interval between death and dismemberment was con-
firmed to be 4 months.

Three forensic challenges were faced by teams working on this
case: the condition of the remains (dismembered bodies of two
tourists), the location (Amazonian jungle), and the lack of labora-
tory facilities. In forensic literature, dismembered cases generally
focused on soft tissue injury patterns or bone analysis through cut
marks to identify the causative instrument, but very few linked the
analysis of injuries with data from the recovery scene. This case
study illustrates the value of the timing of injuries linked to dis-
memberment. The interval between death and dismemberment was
determined by the results of forensic examination and basic experi-
mental study and confirmed by evidences collected on the scene
(e.g., grave). The analysis and interpretation of sharp force injury
and involved instruments were also essential to identify alleged per-
petrators in a specific region with little human settlement. Native
people (Shuar Indians) living in this area belong to Jibaro family
and have achieved their notoriety through their customary practice
of head-shrinking (tsansa) and war hunting. It was then important
to exclude any ritual practices or murders already known in this
region because of territory rivalry between native and colony com-
munities. Despite the complexity of the case and the location, aFIG. 8—Cut section produced by chain saw on pig femur from group A.



strong collaboration on the field and in the mortuary from all the
parts involved allowed identification of the victims and to some
extent the reconstruction of the sequence of events. Unfortunately,
to date, circumstances surrounding the death of the two victims
remain unknown, and trial has been delayed many times.


We thank our colleagues from the Ecuadorian Police
Forensic Institute and especially Dr. Freddy Gonzalo Herrera
and Dr. Edison Marcelo J�come Segovia who were in charge of
the case and invited authors to collaborate. We especially thank
Dr. Milton Zarate Barreiros, chief of Criminal Police Unit in
Quito, for his help and unconditional support. Police officers
from Criminal Unite and especially C�sar Peralta Rivadeneira
from the Office of the Prosecutor in Morona Santiago were very
efficient despite difficulties of crime scene access and lack of
resources. We also thank members of the Ecuadorian Special
Unit of the GIR including the canine team. This work was
supported by the French Police Cooperation Office (SCTIP) in
Quito, and we thank Alain Bateau and all his staff. Finally, we
warmly thank Dr. Erin Kimmerle for the review of this
manuscript and Jose Pablo Baraybar for his review of the final


1. Byers SN. Introduction to forensic anthropology, a textbook, 2nd edn.
Boston, MA: Pearson Education, 2005.

2. Kimmerle EH, Baraybar JP. Skeletal trauma, identification of injuries
resulting from human rights abuse and armed conflict. New York, NY:
CRS Press, 2008.

3. Konopka T, Strona M, Bolechala F, Kunz J. Corpse dismemberment in
the material collected by the Department of Forensic Medicine, Cracow,
Poland. Leg Med Tokyo 2007;9(1):1–13.

4. Reichs KJ. Postmortem dismemberment: recovery, analysis and interpre-
tation. In: Reichs KJ, editor. Forensic osteology, advances in the identi-
fication of human remains. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas,

5. Dimaio VJM, Dana SE. Handbook of forensic pathology, 2nd rev. edn.
New York, NY: CRC Press, 2007.

6. Symes SA, Berryman A, Hugh E, Smith OC, Black C. Saw dismember-
ment of human bone: characteristics indicative of saw class and type.
Proceedings of the 44th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of
Forensic Sciences; 1992 Feb 17–22; New Orleans, LA. Colorado
Springs, CO: American Academy of Forensic Sciences, 1992.

7. Smith OC, Pope EJ, Symes SA. Look until you see: identification of
trauma in skeletal material. In: Steadman DW, editor. Hard evidence:
case studies in forensic anthropology. New Jersey: Prentice Hall,

8. Madea B, Driever F. Cadaver dismemberment by chain saw. Arch
Kriminol 2000;205(3-4):75–81.

9. Reuhl J, Bratzke H. Death caused by chain saw: homicide, suicide or
accident? A case report with a literature review. Forensic Sci Int

10. Schultz Y, Mossakowski H, Albrecht K, Bretmeier D. Postmortem dis-
memberment ⁄ mutilation; medico legal and criminalistic evaluation of
the autopsies performed by the Institute of Legal Medicine at the Hano-
ver Medical School. Arch Krimnol 2008;221(1-2):1–16.

11. Quatrehomme G. A strange case of dismemberment. In: Brikley MB,
Ferlini R, editors. Forensic anthropology: case studies in Europe. New
Jersey: Humana Press, 2007;99–119.

12. Symes SA. Morphology of saw marks in human bone: introduction and
examination of residual kerf contour. In: Reichs KJ, editor. Forensic
osteology, advances in the identification of human remains. Springfield,
IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1998;389–409.

13. Saville PA, Hainsworth SV, Rutty GN. Cutting crime: the analysis of
the ‘‘uniqueness’’ of saw marks on bone. Int J Legal Med

14. Koningsberg LW, Ross AH, Jungers WL. Estimation and evidence in
forensic anthropology: determining stature. In: Schimtt A, Cunha E,
Pinheiro J, editors. Forensic anthropology and medicine, complementary
sciences from recovery to cause of death. New Jersey: Humana Press,

15. Sauer NJ, Lovis WA, Blumer ME, Fillion J. The contribution of archae-
ology and physical anthropology to the John McRae case. In: Steadman
DW, editor. Hard evidence: case studies in forensic anthropology. New
Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003;117–26.

Additional information and reprint requests:
Tania Delabarde, Ph.D.
French Institute of Andean Studies
Whymper 442 y CoruÇa
E-mail: tania.delabarde@gmail.com


Sharp force trauma relating to cultural anthropology

Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 22:535–552, 2012

Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

ISSN: 1091-1359 print/1540-3556 online

DOI: 10.1080/10911359.2011.598727

Anthropology of Violence: Historical and
Current Theories, Concepts, and Debates in
Physical and Socio-cultural Anthropology

School of Social Welfare, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA

This literature review describes the theoretical contributions of

physical and socio-cultural anthropology to an understanding of

violence, based on the common themes expressed by founders of

anthropology that are still visible in today’s post-modern anthro-

pological concepts and theories. The review focuses on three dis-

tinct eras: founding theories and concepts (1880s–1940s); modern

theories and concepts (1950s–1970s); and post-modern theories

and concepts (1980s to the present). Though anthropologists have

been accused of maintaining or perpetrating violence themselves

due to theoretical and methodological trends, new post-modern

concepts have moved toward integrated theories of violence that

encourage an activist anthropologist and incorporate concepts

such as globalization and colonialism. The review concludes with

a conceptual map.

KEYWORDS Anthropology, violence, theory


Since anthropology’s early beginnings as a unique discipline of academic
inquiry, anthropologists have engaged in scholarly work around issues that
fall into the larger category of ‘‘violence’’ or are closely related to violence
and have proposed concepts and theories that have been used to understand
aspects of violence. Interestingly, the usage of the term violence to represent
a specific area of study in anthropology, as in ‘‘anthropology of violence,’’ has
come into popular discussion only since the 1980s and has been the subject
of much debate between prominent scholars in the field. However, in 2004,

Address correspondence to Sarah Accomazzo, School of Social Welfare, University of

California, 120 Haviland Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA. E-mail: sarahacco@berkeley.edu



536 S. Accomazzo

anthropologist Neil Whitehead took others to task, writing that anthropology
has proven resistant to confronting some of the major violence in the twenti-
eth century and perhaps has even perpetrated violence itself; unless anthro-
pology can move forward conceptually, theoretically, and methodologically,
Whitehead warns that anthropology ‘‘risks becoming intellectually marginal
to both the subjects and consumers of its texts’’ (p. 2). This provocative
issue has framed the present-day discussion of anthropology of violence
and provides the backdrop for this literature review.

This review provides an overview of the historical and contemporary
anthropological theories and concepts in physical and socio-cultural anthro-
pological studies of violence and will also discuss the current tensions and
debates within the growing field of anthropology of violence. Three distinct
eras are considered (1880s–1950s, 1950s–1970s, and 1980s to the present),
with physical anthropology reflecting the general theme of objective the-
ory and socio-cultural anthropology representing more subjective theory.
Though anthropologists have disagreed on many theoretical and conceptual
aspects of violence, their work has converged on a few key issues. First, it
is clear that anthropologists who study violence have generally shifted from
older theories (more simplistic, one-dimensional conceptions of violence
based on fieldwork in more stable and smaller societies) to more complex
and multi-layered theories and concepts (incorporating the greater reality
of larger, unstable societies impacted by colonialism and globalization).
As it is impossible for an anthropologist to leave behind his or her own
cultural values and paradigms when studying violence, anthropologists need
to remain aware of the dangers of making judgments about the practices
of another culture to not stand by as injustices are done. Though both
historical and current anthropologists have been charged with inadvertently
overlooking violence (purposely ignoring violence for various reasons or
even contributing to violence through methodological techniques and cer-
tain anthropological practices), the discipline of anthropology has made
significant contributions to a conceptual and theoretical understanding of


Using the Google search engine, the search began with the key phrase
‘‘Anthropology of Violence’’ and led to four course syllabi on ‘‘anthropology
of violence’’ from various campuses across the country. In addition to the
readings found on the syllabi, each professor was contacted for further
recommendations. Also, faculty in the U.C. Berkeley Department of Anthro-
pology provided suggestions for additional sources.

The U.C. Berkeley electronic database system (Melvyl Pilot and OskiCat)
was used to search two major anthropological databases (Anthrosource and


Anthropology of Violence 537

Anthroplus). Keywords included anthropology of violence, violence, aggres-
sion, theory, genocide, and warfare. In addition, five major collections (pub-
lished from 1986–2004), entitled similarly to ‘‘Anthropology of Violence,’’
were reviewed.

This literature review has several limitations. Though anthropology in-
cludes four main fields (physical, archaeological, socio-cultural, and linguistic
anthropology) (Moore, 2008, p. 33), this review focuses on physical and
socio-cultural anthropology of violence and does not address archaeology
or linguistics. As anthropologists have written so extensively on aspects of
violence, this review is not comprehensive but highlights several of the most
prominent theoretical concepts and debates.


The Role of Theory in Anthropology of Violence

Before continuing, it is important to acknowledge a debate among anthro-
pologists about the role and nature of theory in anthropology. Interestingly,
until the 1960s, theories directly dealing with violence were fairly scarce,
except for evolutionary theories (Otterbein, 1999; Scheper-Hughes & Bour-
gois, 2004; Whitehead, 2004c). Though anthropologists were conducting
ethnographies on topics related to violence, such as warfare practices and
violent rituals within societies, they did not often directly theorize about
violence. Several reasons have been suggested as to why violence was so
neglected early on in anthropological theory. Otterbein (1999) has proposed
the following explanations: (1) anthropologists did not often conduct field-
work in societies where warfare (and thus obvious violence) was occurring,
(2) anthropologists were often pacifists and morally opposed to warfare and
violence and so chose not to study these topics, and (3) anthropologists
failed to understand the historical and political contexts of the people they
studied and so missed the importance of war and violence (p. 795). Other
explanations include (1) anthropologists did not want to buy into the stereo-
type of barbaric, savage cultures, (2) anthropologist have tended to ‘‘see
the good’’ in cultures, or (3) anthropology has not developed proper tech-
niques for training students to conduct fieldwork in violent environments,
so anthropologists either deliberately or unconsciously avoided studying
and theorizing on violence (Nordstrom & Robben, 1996; Scheper-Hughes
& Bourgois, 2004).

Theoretical Trends in Anthropology of Violence

This review traces several theoretical and conceptual debates that have oc-
curred throughout studies of violence in anthropology. This section briefly


538 S. Accomazzo

outlines several of the main trends that are rooted in concepts proposed
by founders of anthropology, have been prevalent throughout the study of
violence in anthropology, and are reflected throughout this review.

First, Moore (2008) and Layton (1997) describe two trends of thought
that have developed in anthropological theory: (1) objective lines of the-
ory influenced by the biological sciences that attempt to find explanations,
causes, and laws for human social behavior and that view ‘‘social life as
transactions in goods and services’’ (Layton, 1997); and (2) subjective lines
of theory, connected to the humanities, that are more concerned with inter-
pretation and finding meaning. These two lines of theoretical inquiry date
back to some of the founders of anthropology in the late nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries, namely Lewis Henry Morgan, who proposed a sci-
entific, developmental stage theory of social and cultural evolution, and Franz
Boas, who rejected evolutionary theories and embraced an anti-theoretical,
more humanistic perspective, questioning the usefulness of theory because
cultures are so complex and the results of different historical processes,
requiring the use of ethnographic methods to conduct objective, detailed
studies of cultures (Moore, 2008). Similarly, anthropologists who study vi-
olence have reflected specifically on the utility of theory in understanding
and studying violence. Whitehead (2004c) summarizes the current debate
as tensions between scientific voices, suggesting that anthropologists should
focus on creating theories of violence using scientific evidence or on more
humanistic efforts to record, observe, and create narratives about violence.

Also, as the world had become increasingly fragmented and intercon-
nected, anthropological theory has both diverged and converged (Moore,
2008). Early on in anthropological inquiry, there were only a few theoretical
frameworks from which anthropologists operated (evolutionary theories and
anti-theoretical, culturally relative theories), leading to fairly concrete, one
dimensional conceptions of culture (Hinton, 2002). Currently, however, the
world has become more complex through globalization and technology, and
anthropologists operate from multiple and diverse theoretical perspectives
that reflect this more abstract and interrelated, yet disjointed, reality (Hinton,
2002; Kuper, 2002; Moore, 2008).

However, anthropologists have agreed on two points regarding theory.
First, culture is inherently more complex and nuanced than originally un-
derstood, and theories must reflect this (Moore, 2008). Second, theories are
culturally and politically constructed, so anthropologists must examine their
own cultural and political contexts when developing theory about culture
(Kuper, 2002; Layton, 1997; Moore, 2008).

Debates about evolutionary versus non-evolutionary theories of vio-
lence remain one of the most hotly contested topics. Physical anthropologists
have leaned toward explanations of violence that are based in evolutionary
theories, stating that characteristics such as aggression and competitiveness
are inherent in humans, and violence is one of the tools that has served an


Anthropology of Violence 539

evolutionary function of helping species to survive and thrive (Otterbein,
1999; Silverberg & Gray, 1992; De Waal, 1992; Schroeder & Schmidt, 2001).
Conversely, social and cultural anthropologists have leaned toward expla-
nations of violence that are based in structural, symbolic, and experiential
theories (Layton, 1997; Moore, 2008; Scheper-Hughes & Bourgois, 2004;
Whitehead, 2004c). Though some have proposed approaches that integrate
these two fundamentally different perspectives (Silverberg & Gray, 1992;
Stewart & Strathern, 2002), there has been, and remains, a divisive split
between those who accept an evolutionary perspective and those who reject
it (DeWaal, 1992). Theories are, in the end, both useful and dangerous
(Layton, 1997).


AND CONCEPTS (1880s–1950s)

Physical anthropology is built on evolutionary, biological theories that are
rooted in the work of Charles Darwin. In 1859, Darwin published On the
Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, forever changing the nature
of the social sciences by proposing that humans are descended from apes
and that through a process of evolution and natural selection, the strongest
individuals survive and the weakest die out (Moore, 2008). In essence,
random variations in genetics account for survival in various environments,
and aggressiveness and competition are inherent human traits that help
the strongest in a species to survive (Layton, 1996). Early anthropologists
applied these ideas to culture. In 1877, Lewis Henry Morgan published his
classic work Ancient Society, in which he proposed a stage theory of social
and cultural evolution for understanding the development of human society
(Moore, 2008). Morgan suggested that a continuum of cultural progress exists
and that all cultures fall somewhere on this continuum, with ‘‘most primitive,’’
including savagery and barbarism, at one end, and ‘‘most civilized’’ on the
other (Moore, 2008, p. 23). Differences in cultures merely meant that they
were in different stages of development (not that they were biologically
inferior), and thus, cultures with savage or barbaric violent practices were
just further behind on the evolutionary continuum. Evolutionary theories of
culture, building on Darwin and Morgan, gained increasing popularity.

In an example of early physical anthropologists utilizing an evolutionary
model to explain aspects of violence, in The Evolution of Culture and Other
Essays (1906), Pitt-Fox uses an evolutionary model to explain why weapons
of war have developed similarly in different cultures over time. Pitt-Fox states
that primitive and savage societies utilize weapons that have been copied
from weapons used by animals, (e.g., monkeys throw stones and porcupines
throw quills at intruders), giving primitive humans the ideas of building
and throwing spears as a means of protection (pp. 82–84). As civilizations


540 S. Accomazzo

have advanced, they have created more specialized and complicated tools.
Though he states that it might be hard for people from a ‘‘civilized society’’
to admit that their ancestors were once ‘‘incapable of designing the weapons
we find in the hands of savages of the present day’’ (p. 96), he concludes
that the development in the use of primitive weapons to advanced weapons
has occurred cross-culturally, and societies are merely in different stages of

The work of Bronislau Malinowski (1926) and his ideas of functionalism
also contributed to an understanding of violence during these early years.
Malinowski studied people living on the Trobriand Islands off New Guinea
from 1914 to 1920 and concluded that culture provides a medium to meet the
basic biological, physiological, and social needs of humans (Layton, 1997).
He argued against ideas of evolution, stating that culture is not the result of
evolutionary stages but is a function of the society’s present needs (Layton,
1997). Every society has the same needs, and these needs could be identi-
fied and compared, along with the cultural practices to meet these needs,
using detailed ethnographic methods (Moore, 2008). Malinowski’s functional
theory, though influential in cultural anthropology as well, was also used by
physical anthropologists to connect his ideas about the functional quality of
culture to the ideas that violence was used by societies to gain status and
resources (Moore, 2008).


AND CONCEPTS (1950s–1980s)

Due mostly to the idea of cultural relativism and the anti-evolutionary influ-
ence of Franz Boas and his students, evolutionary theories were unpopular
from the early 1900s until the 1950s, (Layton, 1996; Moore, 2008). However,
evolutionary theories once again gained credence in the 1950s due in part to
the work of anthropologist Leslie White (Moore, 2008). Through his studies
of Native American communities throughout the American Southwest, White
suggested that there are scientific ways to study and compare cultures,
coming from a culturally deterministic viewpoint that emphasized that culture
exists independently from societies, and so generalizations about culture are
possible and can be learned by studying and comparing societies (Moore,
2008). With the advent of scientific inquiry, anthropology faced a need to
become more scientific, and evolutionary theories provided a platform for
this type of inquiry.

Physical anthropologists (also called sociobiologists or socioecologists)
after the 1950s often used scientific and statistical methods to study violence
through comparing aggression and conflict in animals and humans (Leyton,
2003). One common theory is that aggression is an innate tendency that all
living species possess, and thus aggressive, and/or violent, acts have served


Anthropology of Violence 541

an evolutionary purpose of allowing living creatures to establish dominance
and thus have more access to resources, including, for example, material
items such as food and also sexual partners (Knauft, 1991). Many studies have
observed the behavior of monkeys and have applied these understandings
to human interactions.

For example, Pereira (1992) conducted a study on two free-ranging
groups of yellow baboons in Kenya from 1980 to 1981 to better under-
stand why dominant females interfere in fights between offspring. He found
that dominant females prevented their own decline in rank among other
females, and the decline of their matrilineal line, by intervening in fights
between juvenile females and supporting either their own kin over non-
kin or the oldest participant. However, dominant females intervened less in
fights between juvenile males and did not promote status acquisition among
male kin members, instead only supporting the larger, higher-positioned
male. Pereira suggests that it is too risky for adult females to intervene with
juvenile males, who are getting much bigger and stronger, and so might
endanger the status of their daughters in getting males. He concludes that
with more research, ‘‘the interplay between process of development and
their reproductive ramifications will be revealed and roles for development
in the evolution of social behavior should be illuminated’’ (p. 143). This study
demonstrates several important principles (refined in the 1950s to the 1970s)
that physical anthropologists have used to study violence. First, Pereira uses
a study of aggression in primates to gain understanding about the evolution
of culture and social behavior, suggesting that aggression and violence are
strategies used by baboons to help their evolutionary progress. Also, he
uses careful, ethnographic fieldwork methods to make objective observations
about the subjects of his study, along with accepted statistical methods to
carefully analyze his data.



Physical anthropologists have conducted many kinship studies by using ani-
mals to identify how humans have used aggression and violence to keep their
own kin lines dominant within society (De Waal, 1992). For example, John
Patton (2000) suggests that an evolutionary biological paradigm of aggression
has often neglected to address the question of ‘‘Why do soldiers die for
their country?’’ (p. 417). He suggests that the concept of reciprocal altruism
(putting aside conflicts, based on shared interests, to form coalitions to
oppose other groups) can answer this question, citing two studies conducted
among chimpanzees and baboons, by Goodall in 1986 and one by Kummer
in 1971 (Patton, 2000). Patton applied these findings to the Conambo, an
Ecuadorian agricultural community that has a history of violence with other


542 S. Accomazzo

communities, observing that male warriors who took the most risks in battle
had the highest status within the community (and thus more access to
resources) and had significantly more wives than other men. He took this
to mean that violence served an instrumental function in the Conambo
community of helping men gain status: The higher the risk, the more status a
man received. Warriors took extreme risks in battle because if they survived,
a biological, evolutionary-driven cost-benefit analysis demonstrates that the
benefits of status, prestige, and resources were worth it.

It is important to note that most post-modern physical anthropologists
have acknowledged that violence cannot be explained solely by evolutionary
and biologically based theories, because culture and the environment always
play a role (Cronk & Irons, 2000; De Waal, 1992; Knauft, 1991; Silverberg
& Gray, 1992). As De Waal writes, ‘‘Biologists obviously know that : : :
attitudes towards war and peace can be molded through education and
culture; that genes create potentials, not inevitabilities : : : ’’ (p. 41). Integrated
theories that acknowledge the contribution of physical anthropologists to an
understanding of violence but also combine concepts from both physical
and social-cultural anthropology are necessary (De Waal; Silverberg & Gray,
1992). This review will next consider socio-cultural anthropological theories
of violence.



Altogether, socio-cultural anthropologists of the 1880s through the 1950s
published only minimally on topics directly related to violence and did
not contribute significantly to developing anthropological theories on vio-
lence. During this time, though cultures with violence were often studied
and violent practices were recorded in ethnographies, due to themes of
cultural and moral relativism (leading to anti-theoretical and comparative
approaches) and salvage anthropology, plausible theories and concepts on
violence were seldom advanced. In fact, some have argued that due to these
themes, anthropologists actually perpetrated violence upon the communities
they were studying.

Franz Boas is considered the founder of socio-cultural anthropology.
The views and the strategies he put forth have had tremendous impact on
the development of socio-cultural theories, including historical and current
socio-cultural theories of violence. Franz Boas’ views on anthropology were
both anti-theoretical and anti-evolutionary (Layton, 1997). In 1911, he con-
ducted a study of the craniums of 17,821 immigrants and determined that
cranial form was very irregular among family lines and also countries of
origin; he concluded from these results that traits that were proposed by
evolutionists to be genetically fixed, such as cranium shape, had in fact been


Anthropology of Violence 543

modified by something else, presumably the environment (Moore, 2008).
This study formed the basis of Boas’s conclusions that cultures are integrated
wholes that are produced by specific historical contexts, not at all reflections
of evolutionary stages. He insisted on cultural relativism, suggesting that it is
not possible to compare cultures, as each culture is so complex and has been
formed by so many different processes within such specific and diverse con-
texts (Layton, 1997). He suggested that the best way to learn about a culture
was to take a humanistic (as opposed to scientific) approach and immerse
oneself in detailed, objective studies of other cultures, influencing many
generations of anthropologists to use ethnography and fieldwork (Moore,
2008). These theories and concepts have been reflected throughout cultural
anthropology’s approach to violence themes and have been particularly built
upon by post-modern anthropologists of the 1980s to the present.

The ideas of Boas led inadvertently to the development of ‘‘salvage
anthropology,’’ a tradition in anthropology that dominated cultural anthro-
pology from the 1900s to the 1950s and influenced the development of the-
ories of violence and even perpetrated violence themselves. Salvage anthro-
pologists tended to study small, self-contained, mostly stable, non-Western
societies by recording information on disappearing societies before they
were lost forever (Scheper-Hughes & Bourgois, 2004).

Arthur Kroeber (2004) was strongly influenced by the ideas of Boas
and used them to advance the concept of salvage anthropology through his
studies of Native Americans in California (Moore, 2008). Kroeber felt strongly
that culture is a mental construct that could not be explained by organic
individual needs. Using themes of cultural relativism and anti-theoretical
approaches, he noted that culture consisted of learned and shared elements
unique to each culture given its own historical processes (Moore, 2008).

Scheper-Hughes (2004) cites Kroeber’s work as an example of the dan-
gers of salvage anthropology and the violence it committed against its sub-
jects of study. Ishi, an Indian from one of the last Northern California tribes
to live in the wilderness, was captured by police in 1908 and spent the last
years of his life living at the University of California, Berkeley’s Museum
of Anthropology, a ‘‘live’’ specimen for anthropologists to study. Scheper-
Hughes scathingly denounces this ‘‘salvage anthropology’’ approach, stating
that anthropologists were primarily concerned with scientifically studying
Ishi and learning about his culture before he died, and any chance to study
his culture died with him. However, anthropologists completely overlooked
the fact that Ishi’s tribe had died out as a direct result of genocide committed
by the colonial American government and white settlers living in California;
in an attempt to create anthropological conceptual and theoretical frame-
works by studying Ishi’s use of tools and language, anthropologists both
ignored and contributed to the violence perpetrated against Ishi, his tribe,
and Native Americans throughout the country. It was only in 1999, after
Ishi’s brain was found preserved (against his explicit wishes to have his body


544 S. Accomazzo

buried in a traditional ritual) that the UC Berkeley Anthropology Department
issued an apology for its role in perpetrating violence against both one man
and an entire civilization.

Unfortunately, the concepts of cultural relativism (the idea that cultures
are the results of their own historical processes and thus are not compa-
rable) and salvage anthropology had long-ranging negative effects on the
study of socio-cultural violence during this period (Otterbein, 1999; Scheper-
Hughes & Bourgois, 2004). For example, cultural relativism led to a moral
relativism philosophy, where anthropologists attempted to observe cultures
without judgment in an attempt to avoid stereotyping practices in different
cultures (Whitehead, 2004b). Unfortunately, this well-intentioned attempt re-
sulted in anthropologists’ often ignoring violence happening before their eyes
or even missing the warning signs that violence, such as genocide, was about
to happen (Scheper-Hughes, 2004). Scheper-Hughes and Bourgois give the
example of anthropologist Richard Geertz, who studied communities in Bali,
Indonesia in the years leading up to the 1965 massacre of 500,000 people by
Islamic fundamentalists but whose research did not ever mention the clear
signs of the impending massacre. When Geertz was asked in 1996 why he
did not report on these signs, he stated that he had not wanted to draw away
from his other theoretical points or to engage in the ‘‘politics of advocacy’’ (p. 6).



Beginning in the 1950s, publications on warfare and general violence in-
creased dramatically (Ferguson, 2005; Otterbein, 1999). Anthropologists from
the 1950s to the 1970s tended to move away from attributing violence to
‘‘traditional’’ or ‘‘tribal’’ societies and began to acknowledge that violence
occurs in all societies (Whitehead, 2004c). The focus of studies shifted from
small, contained communities to studying larger, more complex communities
that were dealing with the affects of globalism, colonialism, and capitalism.
One explanation for this can be found in WWI and WWII, both of which
forced an acknowledgement that violence existed in many forms in the
Western world and inspired a new wave of theories on violence.

Modern theories and concepts of violence (1950s–1970s) focused more
on physical violence. They started to recognize that the definition of violence
is always relative and dependent on who is involved and that cultures
might define violence differently, bringing up concepts of legitimacy versus
illegitimacy and the rationality of violence. With all this came the beginning
recognition of the economic and political forces associated with violence
through colonialism and globalization.

Riches (1986) published an early collection of writings on an ‘‘anthropol-
ogy of violence’’ reflecting the growing attention given to violence through-


Anthropology of Violence 545

out the 1950s to 1970s and led up to current, post-modern anthropological
concepts of violence. Riches proposed a theory of rational preemption to
explain why violence is utilized; in essence, perpetrators of violence always
have choices, but they pick violence because it secures an advantage over an
opponent before the opponent can act. Though violence has both expressive
(violence is a performance in that it communicates a message to all involved)
and instrumental (violence serves a specific purpose in the moment) motives,
he suggests that violence is usually utilized rationally and strategically by
perpetrators and with the intention to send a message to those involved and
also to the community at large. Riches also proposes a ‘‘triangle of violence,’’
stating that there are

Sharp force trauma relating to cultural anthropology



The Pattern of Violence
and Aggression

Ann H. Ross
, Ashley Humphries

and Eugenia Cunha


1Department of Biological Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC,

United States 2National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, Lisbon, Portugal
3Centre for Functional Ecology, Department of Life Sciences, University of Coimbra,

Coimbra, Portugal


Homicide cases involving mutilation evoke both morbid interest and repulsion as the
act of dismemberment is thought to be relatively rare. However, Quatrehomme (2007)
states they are rather common and Ross (see Chapter 11: Tool Mark Identification on
Bone: Best Practice) states that dismemberments are underreported due to that current
homicide reporting systems do not allow for accurate counts. Mutilation is “the act of
depriving an individual of a limb, or other important part of the body; or deprival of an
organ; or severe disfigurement, which also covers the term dismemberment” (Sea and
Beauregard, 2016: 2). With increased attention on the strengthening of the forensic sciences
(i.e., 2009 NAS report), cases of dismemberment and mutilation deserve more consider-
ation as the interpretation of the context will be an important component in the progres-
sion of the investigation as well as for probative purposes. Three major intersections will
be reviewed including the motive of the mutilation, and the interpretation of the tool
marks and pattern of mutilation (mode) as these play an important role in the evaluation
of the crime and ultimately the sentencing of the perpetrator. Further, a summary of
trends including the perpetrator and victim profiles will also be reviewed in light of cul-
tural variations. Finally, recommendations to clarify terminology and reporting of these
unique cases will be presented.

Dismemberment can result from a number of instances. For example, it is not uncom-
mon for dismemberment to occur in high velocity traffic accidents or suicides. Out of 3940
deaths occurring between 2000 and 2007, Dogan and colleagues (2010) identified seven
dismemberment cases in Turkey, only one of which was related to criminal intent. Four of


DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-811912-9.00012-5 © 2019 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

these incidents were the result of suicide via jumping in front of a train and two of them
were due to traffic accidents. As a result, they conclude that most dismemberments in
Turkey occur in accidents and suicides. This information is helpful in understanding dis-
memberment trends cross-culturally. However, we recommend distinguishing criminal
dismemberment/mutilation from dismemberment/mutilation resulting from accidents or
suicides as they have very different medicolegal processes and outcomes. Therefore, the
remaining chapter will focus solely on criminal dismemberments.


In 1918, Ziemke defined defensive and offensive dismemberments in which a defensive
dismemberment is performed following a homicide to transport, conceal, or hinder the
identification of the victim (Konopka et al., 2007). This motivation can either be planned,
such as in the case of a serial killer, or may occur without any foresight, such as in the
case of a family dispute gone wrong (Rajs et al., 1998; Häkkänen-Nyholm et al., 2009;
Dogan et al., 2010). However, at least in European contexts, defensive mutilations are
more likely to be committed by a close family member or friend (Rajs et al., 1998;
Konopka et al., 2007, 2016; see various chapters in this volume for examples).

An offensive mutilation is performed by a perpetrator who receives gratification
through a sexually motivated homicide or through the dismemberment itself. Further divi-
sions were proposed by Püschel and Koops (1987) to include aggressive and necromanic
dismemberment. Aggressive dismemberments are those in which the homicide is brought
on by a fit of rage where the dismemberment could be the continuation of an “overkill” or
be the cause of death itself. Aggressive mutilations are commonly associated with impul-
sivity, multiple injuries, and the potential presence of defensive wounds (Rajs et al., 1998).
For example, Dogan et al. (2010) report a matricide in which the victim’s schizophrenic
daughter murdered her mother. At least 71 incised and stab wounds were identified on
the victim’s head, five stab wounds were present in the right chest cavity, defensive cut
marks were located on the hands, the right ear was severed from the head, and the victim
was decapitated. In addition, the perpetrator removed the right arm at the location of the
scapulohumeral joint and removed both hands at the level of the wrists. Due to the large
number and superficial nature of the stab wounds on the head, Dogan et al. (2010) identi-
fied this dismemberment, at least in part, as an aggressive mutilation. However, due to
the removal of the hands, an attempt to clean up the scene, and the fact that the perpetra-
tor attempted to break the edges of the squat toilet to widen the opening for disposal of
the elements, Dogan et al. (2010) agreed that the mutilation could also be considered
defensive. Homicide by decapitation has also been identified as aggressive mutilation (as
observed in several cases in this volume). Konopka et al. (2007, 2016) cited a case in which
a mother chopped the necks of her two daughters with an ax, murdering them and nearly
decapitating one.

Necromanic mutilation, the least common modern category, may be associated with
necrophilia or carried out with the purpose of using a body part as a symbol, trophy, or
fetish. The death of the corpse used in this instance may not necessarily result from homi-
cide. A very clear example is described by Ehrlich et al. (2000) in which a male perpetrator



committed at least 12 acts of necrophilia or paraphilia. He would specifically break into
cemeteries to gain access to the corpses and admitted that he would often feel inclined to
perform the acts after leaving his court mandated psychiatric appointments intended to
help him with this inclination. In six of the instances the perpetrator either severed the
breasts or skinned the trunk of the corpses and placed the skin on his naked body for sex-
ual stimulation. In one instance he removed a limb. He also gained sexual gratification
through covering himself in burial shrouds and/or lying in the coffins. To further clarify
this category, Mellor (2016) uses the term necromutilophilia for individuals gaining plea-
sure from the mutilation of corpses and specifies the term necromutilomania for cases
where mutilation of corpses is compulsive but not accompanied with homicide. According
to Ehrlich et al. (2000), almost all necromaniac mutilations are committed by males. In
their review of nine cases from German speaking countries, there was only one instance of
a female perpetrator.

More recently, Persaud and Häkkänen-Nyholm (2012) included a fifth category, com-
munication. Dismemberment as a means of communication includes those killings that are
associated with organized crime in which the mutilation is a means of sending a message.
Evidence of mutilation has been identified in the prehistoric and historic record. Motives
for such dismemberments in these early contexts typically revolved around powerasser-
tion and/or superstition (Klaus and Toyne, 2016). For example, public executions by “dis-
ruption” that were carried out by chaining each limb to four horses to be pulled apart in
four directions (quartering) symbolized the power of the State. Such executions were
reserved for enemies of the State serving as a symbol for others not to question their rule.
As described by Klaus and Toyne (2016), dismemberment within Moche contexts involved
combat, and capturing prisoners for public display and sacrifice. These behaviors were
interpreted from mural and ceramic images, such as paintings depicting Moche warriors
leading a line of nude prisoners with a rope tied to their necks, images depicting deep
incisions on the penises and legs of prisoners suggesting torture, and images of male cap-
tives surrounded by severed heads and limbs (Klaus and Toyne, 2016). Cut marks exam-
ined by Klaus and Toyne (2016) on remains from Huaca de la Luna, Peru, are suggestive
of mutilation around the eyes, nose, cheeks, lips, scalp, hands, and feet, and possible muti-
lation of the genitals. These patterns, held during a ritualistic display, would have likely
had a bloody and intimidating effect on the victims and bystanders; and therefore, served
to reinforce the State’s power.

Recent modern-day examples include the dismemberments carried out during the armed
conflict in Colombia in which dismemberment via machetes and axes was a widespread
form of torture to instill fear in rural populations by paramilitary groups (see Chapter 2:
Dismemberment of Victims in Colombia: A Perspective From Practice). In many of the cases,
the dismemberment was the actual cause of death as no other evidence of trauma was evi-
dent and has been confirmed by numerous eyewitness accounts (Morcillo-Méndez and
Campos, 2012). Dismemberment also served the purpose as a concealment mechanism
allowing for the burial and nonburial disposal of a body (López and Umaña, 2007). Pachar
Lucio (2015) has noted the increase in the number of mutilated and dismembered bodies in
Mexico and Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador related to
an increase in criminal activities of narcotrafficking, paramilitary groups, and other gang
activities (see Chapters 3 and 4: Dismemberment in Brazil: From Early Colonization to



Present Days; Postmortem Criminal Mutilation in Panama). The motive behind these dis-
memberments is to either send a message (e.g., intimidation, settling of scores) to rival crim-
inals or of a psychological, psychiatric, and symbolic etiology exhibiting mutilations of the
tongue, genitals, decapitation, removal of the face, scalping, and signs of torture evidenced
by placing these in public places or using them as trophies (Pachar Lucio, 2015; see
Chapter 4: Postmortem Criminal Mutilation in Panama).

According to Rajs et al. (1998) and Konopka et al. (2016), the two most common forms
of dismemberment are defensive and aggressive. These tend to be unplanned, disorga-
nized, committed by someone known to the victim, and often influenced by alcohol and/
or substance abuse (Rajs et al., 1998; Konopka et al., 2016). Cases of criminal mutilation are
not systematically reported; as such, there are few available for study and the case reviews
that do exist are focused on developed countries. Therefore, these trends may be influ-
enced by cultural factors not readily accounted for in the literature (Corzine et al., 1999;
Salfati and Park, 2007).


Rainwater (2015) provides a recent review of the modes of dismemberment, summariz-
ing dismemberment trauma into three categories. These include disarticulation around the
joints, transection of bone via chopping, and transection of bone via sawing.
Disarticulation around the joints is typically characterized by cut marks around major
joints. This mode has been considered evidence of the perpetrator having some anatomical
knowledge. An example of transection via sawing is discussed later in Chapter 11, Tool
Mark Identification on Bone: Best Practice (see case example 1, Laura Ackerson), where a
power saw was utilized. A unique example of a transection via chopping is described in
Chapter 11, Tool Mark Identification on Bone: Best Practice of this volume (case example
2), in which a shovel was used to remove the head of the victim and arms at the
shoulders. Transection of the bone via sawing was the most common mode of dismember-
ment observed among the 21 cases presented in this volume. Rainwater’s classification,
transection via chopping, may be more appropriately described with the term corto-
contundente or incised-blunt injuries that are produced in chopping transections by a heavy
weapon with a sharp cutting edge, such as axes, machetes, shovels, heavy knives, and
boat propellers (Di Maio and Dana, 2003; Chapter 11: Tool Mark Identification on Bone:
Best Practice).

Mutilation encompasses both disarticulation and any removal of body parts. Skin may
also be removed in an attempt to remove tattoos, digits, genitalia, and breasts. The
removal of tattoos and/or digits is consistent with defensive mutilation where the perpe-
trator is motivated by the desire to hinder identification. For example, in a historic 1935
double murder committed by Dr. Buck Ruxton, investigators reported that fingerprints
and scars had been severed from the victims in an attempt to hinder identification
(https://www.nlm.nih.gov/visibleproofs/galleries/cases/ruxton.html). Mutilation of the
genitalia and/or breasts is consistent with offensive mutilations where lust/sexual desire
may be a motivating factor (see Chapter 4: Postmortem Criminal Mutilation in Panama).



Aggressive mutilations are often accompanied by the presence of multiple injuries, defen-
sive wounds, symbolic cuts to the face or particular body parts (Rajs et al., 1998).


Defensive and aggressive dismemberments are typically disorganized, whereas offen-
sive dismemberments are more commonly performed by an organized perpetrator. Rajs
et al. (1998) found that defensive dismemberments were likely to be influenced by alcohol
and/or substance abuse and most of the perpetrators had been under psychiatric care.
Aggressive mutilations were found to be committed by individuals with psychotic tenden-
cies, such as schizophrenia or affective disorders (Rajs et al., 1998). This is consistent with
the matricide case reported by Dogan et al. (2010). Offensive mutilations are associated
with a history of criminal activity including rape, arson, assault, battery, and cruelty to
animals (Rajs et al., 1998).

Interestingly, one study found an increase in admittance of schizophrenic patients to
psychiatric hospitals during the summer months with a peak occurring in June and July
(Hare and Walter, 1978). Other studies have identified seasonal variation in other mental
illnesses including bipolar disorder with manic/hypomanic symptoms peaking around
the fall equinox and depressive symptoms peaking in months surrounding the winter
solstice in bipolar I disorder (Akhter et al., 2013). Holmes (2017) identifies psychopathic
personality as part of the suite of antisocial personality disorders that show traits of self-
centeredness, absence of empathy, control over others, liability to brutal violence, and risk
to others, which could predispose them to dismember without hesitation, revulsion, or
remorse. Dismemberment by psychopaths is executed in a cold, dispassionate manner that
differentiates them from those preceded by anger or rage (Holmes, 2017). These cases con-
ducted by psychopathy and other personality disorders may not be associated to
individuals labeled as mentally ill as these disorders do not disable the perpetrator, but
instead those around them are the ones who suffer the consequences to their symptoms
(Holmes, 2017). Another dimension in civilian contexts is that dismemberment/mutilation
in homicide cases, the perpetrator is known to the victim while unknown in nonhomicide
cases (Konopka et al., 2007, 2016; Holmes, 2017).


Corzine et al. (1999) argue that aggression is a culturally encoded behavior and there-
fore, may lead to varying homicide patterns within different cultural contexts. Salfati and
Park (2007) reviewed 70 cases in South Korea and found that compared with Western
homicides, homicides in South Korea are less likely to involve an offender and a victim
who have close ties. The authors hypothesize that this is due to a cultural value of interde-
pendence and harmony with significant others. Therefore, we can hypothesize that
dismemberment patterns may also vary cross-culturally.

Overall, necromaniac mutilations are considered rare (Rajs et al., 1998). However, this
trend varies culturally. Labuschange (2004) and Steyn and Brits (see Chapter 5:



Dismemberment in South Africa: Case Studies) report on several South African cases in
which human body parts were mixed with other ingredients or used alone to produce Muti.
Muti, in the traditional belief system of the region, is considered “strong medicine” and
human body parts are a highly regarded ingredient because it is believed they possess the
essence of life and are very powerful. Steyn and Brits (see Chapter 5: Dismemberment in
South Africa: Case Studies), suggest that the most likely cause of dismemberment in South
Africa is the Muti trade. These dismemberments are primarily via decapitation, family mem-
bers are often the victims, and the patterns suggest that there is preplanning involved (see
Chapter 5: Dismemberment in South Africa: Case Studies). It should be noted that soft tissue,
such as the breasts and genitalia are also used for Muti and will likely not leave evidence on

Further, while defensive mutilations predominate in the European case reviews as well
as in the North Carolina cases, mutilations committed by organized crime for the purpose
of communication are more common in Latin America (see Chapters 2�4). Interestingly,
Sweden showed the greatest frequency of offensive and aggressive mutilations.


A meta-analysis to examine geographic patterns in dismemberments was conducted on
combined data from the literature including Poland (n 5 23, Konopka et al., 2007), Sweden
(n 5 21, Rajs et al., 1998), United Kingdom (n 5 80, Black et al., 2017), and the United States
(n 5 11, Chapter 11: Tool Mark Identification on Bone: Best Practice). A Pearson Chi-
square, which uses the observed and expected cell frequencies, was used to test whether
motive of dismemberments differed among countries and to examine for variation in vic-
tim profiles, perpetrator relation to victim, and mode of dismemberment using the cate-
gorical response analysis platform in JMP 13.0 (SAS Institute Inc., 2016).


The Pearson Chi-square results show that there are significant differences in motives
among the different countries (Pearson Chi-square 5 52.61, p-value 5 , 0.0001). Table 12.1
presents the frequency count of motive by country and shows that defensive dismember-
ments are by far the most common. However, Sweden had a greater frequency of offensive
and aggressive dismemberments than any of the countries. Proportionally the United States
has the greatest frequency of multiple motives of dismemberment per case. These country
specific differences can be better visualized in the share chart (Fig. 12.1), which is calcu-
lated by dividing each count by the total number of responses and represents the fre-
quency divided by response total (JMP 13 Consumer Research. Cary, NC: SAS Institute
Inc, 2016).

Differences in frequency were also found regarding perpetrator profiles among the
countries (Pearson Chi-square 5 12.74, p-value 5 0.05). By far, males were the most
common perp (see Fig. 12.2 share chart). However, when we examined each individual



sample, Poland differed significantly from both Sweden and the UK (p-value 5 0.03,
p-value 5 0.05, respectively) having more female perpetrators. The relation of the perpetra-
tor to the victim did not differ significantly among the countries with the perpetrator being
known to the victim as the most common measure (Pearson Chi-square 5 0.87,
p-value 5 0.853, see Table 12.2 for frequencies).

There was no significant difference in the victim profile (Pearson Chi-square 5 10.35,
p-value 5 0.11) even though the United Kingdom has a greater frequency of male victims;
however, this is most likely due to the larger sample size. (see Table 12.3).

Share chart
Motive of mutilation

Poland 23



1 2 3 4 5





FIGURE 12.1 Frequency of mutilation type by country 1 5 defensive, 2 5 offensive, 3 5 aggressive,
4 5 necromanic, 5 5 multiple types.

TABLE 12.1 Frequency Comparisons for Motive of Dismemberment

Frequency Defensive Offensive Aggressive Necromanic Multiple



Reporting country Poland 17 3 2 1 0 23

73.9% 13.0% 8.7% 4.3% 0.0%

Reporting country Sweden 10 6 4 1 0 21

47.6% 28.6% 19.0% 4.8% 0.0%

Reporting country UK 66 2 5 1 6 80

82.5% 2.5% 6.3% 1.3% 7.5%

Reporting country USA 6 0 0 0 6 12

50.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 50.0%

Share chart
Perpetrator profile: 2 or 1



1 2 3







FIGURE 12.2 Frequency of perpetrator profile 1 5 female, 2 5 male, 3 5 unknown.



Interestingly, there was a significant difference in mode of dismemberment (e.g.,
transection or disarticulation) among the countries (Pearson Chi-square 5 16.73,
p-value 5 0.01).The majority of the cases were dismemberment by transection with a
smaller frequency of disarticulations. However, Poland had the highest frequency of disar-
ticulations with 24% and in the United Kingdom100% were transections (see Table 12.4).

TABLE 12.2 Frequencies of Relation of Perpetrator to Victim (1 5 known, 2 5 unknown), * 5 Alpha level
0.05, ** 5 Alpha level 0.1.

Frequency Share Comparisons

Perpetrator Profile: Relation to Victim

1 2 Total Responses Compare Compare Means

Reporting country Poland A 17 6 23

73.9% ** 26.1% **

Sweden B 15 6 21

71.4% ** 28.6% **

UK C 62 18 80

77.5% * 22.5% *

USA D 8 4 12

66.7% ** 33.3% **

* 5 Alpha level 0.1, ** 5 Alpha level 0.05.

TABLE 12.3 Victim Profile (1 5 Female, 2 5 Male, 3 5 Unknown)

Frequency Share

Victim Profile: 2 or 1

1 2 3 Total Responses Compare

Reporting country Poland A 15 8 0 23

65.2% 34.8% 0.0%

Sweden B 11 10 0 21

52.4% 47.6% 0.0%

UK C 34 35 11 80

42.5% 43.8% 13.8%

USA D 7 5 0 12

58.3% 41.7% 0.0%




The parallels observed in all of the chapters of diverse geographic origin is that every
practitioner begins with a gross examination of the false starts (reported by everyone in
this volume) and cross-sections. Auxiliary analyses were applied by almost everyone
namely SEM and histology through which it was possible to find evidence of the offend-
ing implement as well the environment the victim occupied at some point. In Brazil, mac-
roscopic analysis appears to be the only analyses performed on the skeleton and in
Central American practice neither auxiliary analyses nor skeletal examinations were con-
ducted. This may be a product of a lack of available resources and collaborative multidis-
ciplinary opportunities.

Per contra, France, Italy, and the United States show more detailed ancillary analyses.
As such, Delabarde and Ludes in Chapter 7, The Potential of Histological Analysis in
Dismemberment Cases, provide best practice for histological methods, Ross and Radisch
(see Chapter 11: Tool Mark Identification on Bone: Best Practice) and Adams and
Rainwater (see Chapter 10: Intentional Body Dismemberment Following Nonhomicidal
Deaths: A Retrospective Study of Body Packer Cases in New York City) for digital micros-
copy, and Amadasi and colleagues (see Chapter 8: Dismemberment and Tool Mark
Analysis on Bone: A Microscopic Analysis of the Walls of Cut Marks) describe an experi-
ment to achieve more reliable results proving that future research is necessary. The identi-
fication of the instrument used to mutilate the body has been demonstrated to be
dependent upon the quality of crime scene protocols and on the recovery of suspect
objects, which can later be compared with witness marks found on the victim. Multiple
instruments are reported, such as heavy sharp edged tools, long, heavy tools (e.g.,
machetes), several types of knives, and saws. The majority of the lesions are a combination
of sharp force and blunt force trauma leading Ross and Radisch to inclusively discuss the

TABLE 12.4 Frequency in Mode of Dismemberment (1 5 Transection, 2 5 Disarticulation, 3 5 Unknown)

Frequency Share Comparisons

Mode or Manner of Dismemberment

1 2 3


Responses Compare




Poland A 13 4 0 17

76.5% ** 23.5% C** 0.0% **

Sweden B 1 0 0 1

100.0% ** 0.0% ** 0.0% **

UK C 48 1 0 49

98.0% A* 2.0% * 0.0% *

USA D 10 0 1 11

90.9% ** 0.0% ** 9.1% **

* 5 Alpha level 0.05, ** 5 Alpha level 0.1.



Latin terminology corto-contundente, which they consider a more accurate descriptor of
these types of lesions as opposed to the descriptor “transection via chopping” used by
Rainwater (2015) and for which we are recommending inclusion in our standard trauma

Decapitation was a common element reported in approximately half of the cases pre-
sented in this volume, which is a significant finding especially if we take into account that
it is the modus operandi of terrorists, such as Al Qaeda. Most of the decapitations were post-
mortem even if in some of the cases, the decapitation itself could have been the cause of
death. Almost every chapter addresses the underlying motives for the dismemberment,
which differ between the violent and less violent countries represented. Inconsistent with
the meta-analyses presented above, males and females were proportionately the victim of
dismemberment in the 21 cases presented throughout this volume. Adults were more fre-
quently the victims of mutilation, where only two out of 21 victims were subadults.

Perpetrators are known generally when there is a conviction. Otherwise, they remain
unknown, which precludes any inference to be made from the cases outlined in this vol-
ume where in only a few of the cases the perpetrator was caught. Moreover, it is more
common that cases remain unsolved in violent countries where there are many more vic-
tims of homicide, limited resources, and where the government priorities are not directed
toward the dead.


As criminal mutilations are not systematically reported and most of the data available
derive from developed countries, there is a gap in the data and a deficiency toward under-
standing global trends. For example, the meta-analysis included in this chapter is primar-
ily comprised of European and one American data set. However, as demonstrated
throughout the chapters in this volume, a slightly different trend is represented in the
Americas (not including the United States), where the primary motivation for dismember-
ment is for the purpose of communication—the fifth type of dismemberment, identified by
Persaud and Häkkänen-Nyholm (2012), that we recommend utilizing as it accurately
describes a very specific motive observed in modern developing countries. Therefore, we
recommend the development of best practices and encourage forensic practitioners to
report cases of mutilation. Further, reporting of these cases varies considerably. For exam-
ple, often information regarding the mode and tools utilized are not included, making
global comparisons difficult if not impossible to make.

However, the 21 cases (not including the Australian context) presented in this volume
allow us to make some general inferences. Are dismemberments a rare occurrence? As
noted by Ross and Radisch in Chapter 2, Dismemberment of Victims in Colombia: A
Perspective From Practice, there is a trend in the literature to claim that criminal dismem-
berment is a rare occurrence, and they cite that only Quatrehomme (2007) has stated that
postmortem dismemberment was not an isolated event. The insights from the eight coun-
tries highlighted in this book unsurprisingly show that in the group of violent countries
(e.g., Colombia, Brazil, Central America, and South Africa), dismemberments are common,
whereas elsewhere they appear to be relatively rare events, although Ross and Radisch



report 11 cases for a period of 7 years in North Carolina (2011�17). However, Ross and
Radisch also suggest that the claim that criminal dismemberment is a rare occurrence may
be related to how these types of cases are documented and reported. A common denomi-
nator appears to be an underestimation of these types of cases and unreliable statistics.
For example, Sanabria reports that 7000 bodies were recovered between 2005 and 2017,
but the percentage of dismemberments is unreported. Steyn and Brits state that Muti
related killings happen with relatively high frequency in South Africa. Overall, these cases
are underestimated and challenging to quantify. Finally, the practitioners in this volume
demonstrate that Locard’s exchange principle—that “every contact leaves a trace”—still
holds true today.


Akhter, A., Fiedorowicz, J.G., Zhang, T., Potash, J.B., Cavanaugh, J., Solomon, D.A., et al., 2013. Seasonal variation
of manic depressive symptoms in bipolar disorder. Bipolar Disorder 15 (4), 377�384.

Black, S., Rutty, G., Hainsworth, S., Thomson, G., 2017. Appendix II. In: Black, S., Rutty, G., Hainsworth, S.,
Thomson, G. (Eds.), Criminal Dismemberment. Forensic and Investigative Analysis. CRC Press, Boca Raton,
pp. 200�202.

Corzine, J., Huff-Corzine, L., Whitt, H.P., 1999. Cultural and subcultural theories of homicide. In: Smith, M.D.,
Zahn, M.A. (Eds.), Homicide: A Sourcebook of Social Research. SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks,
pp. 58�71.

Di Maio, V., Dana, S., 2003. Manual de patologı́aforense. Ediciones Diaz de Santos S.A, pp. 108�109.
Dogan, K.H., Demirci, S., Deniz, I., Erkol, Z., 2010. Decapitation and dismemberment of the corpse: a matricide

case. J. Forensic Sci. 55 (2), 542�545.
Ehrlich, E., Rothschild, M.A., Pluisch, F., Schneider, V., 2000. An extreme case of necrophilia. Legal Med. 2 (4),

Klaus, H.D., Toyne, J.M., 2016. Ritual of violence in ancient Andes. In: Klaus, H.D., Toyne, J.M. (Eds.), Ritual

Violence in the Ancient Andes: Reconstructing Sacrifice on the North Coast of Peru. University of Texas Press,
Austin, pp. 29�63.

Häkkänen-Nyholm, H., Weizmann-Henelius, G., Salenius, S., Lindberg, N., Repo-Tiihonen, E., 2009. Homicides
with mutilation of the victim’s body. J. Forensic Sci. 54 (4), 933�937.

Hare, E.H., Walter, S.D., 1978. Seasonal variation in admission of pyschatric patients and its relation to seasonal
variation in their births. J. Epidemiol. Commun. Health 32, 47�52.

Holmes, D., 2017. Psychology and dismemberment. In: Black, S., Rutty, G., Hainsworth,

Sharp force trauma relating to cultural anthropology

Forensic Science International 299 (2019) 119–127

Sharp force trauma analysis in bone and cartilage: A literature review

Jennifer C. Love
Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, 401 E Street, Washington, DC, 20024, United States


Article history:
Available online 26 March 2019

Sharp force trauma
Saw mark
Cut mark
Tool mark


Sharp force trauma (SFT) in bone and cartilage has been studied extensively. This literature review
summarizes knife and saw mark research. Researchers have documented several features of cut surfaces
and successfully associated them with various tool characteristics. Most study designs are based on light
microscopic examination, but other technologies such as micro-computed scanning, scanning electron
microscope, and epifluorescence microscopy have been investigated. Researchers have worked with
human and non-human material, and found that the presentation of SFT differs between the two.
Furthermore, they have designed studies to control the parameters surrounding SFT (e.g., tool angle,
force, direction) as well as not to control these parameters (real-world scenario) and have found that the
trauma produced in the two scenarios differ considerably. Researchers have attempted to calculate the
error rate associated with cut and saw mark analysis and have reported very different results. Several
high profile cases of successful SFT analysis have been published and are briefly reviewed. Expert
testimony based on cut and saw mark analysis has been found admissible, but not in all cases.
Unfortunately, researchers have not consistently used standard terminology, a list of terms gathered from
the literature is provided. Despite the extensive research, more work is needed. Methods that mitigate
potential sources of error that are not dependent on analyst’s experience must be developed.

© 2019 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Forensic Science International

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locat e/f orsciint

Sharp force trauma (SFT) is produced by a tool that is edged,
pointed or beveled [1]. Traditionally, anthropologists have
evaluated SFT observed on bone and cartilage through microscope
analyses by describing features of the mark and associating them
with a type or an individual tool. The majority of the research has
focused on saw marks and knife marks and several articles are
summarized here. Other beveled tools such as machetes have been
minimally researched and are outside the scope of this article (for
examples see Refs. [2–4]). Furthermore, anthropologists have
investigated dismemberment and human mutilation and
attempted to infer intent or state of mind of the perpetrator (for
examples see Refs. [5–8]); this too is outside the scope of this
article. The goal of this article is to succinctly summarize previous
research in knife and saw mark analyses and to showcase gaps in
the methodologies requiring additional research. Many terms may
be new to readers; rather than define each term in the text, they are
defined in Table 1.

Prior to summarizing the literature of knife and saw mark
analyses, some fundamental principles should be discussed.
First, the language used in the literature is not consistent. Symes
et al. attempted to standardize the language [9], but not all
researchers have followed suit. Three terms that appear to be

E-mail address: jennifer.love@dc.gov (J.C. Love).

0379-0738/© 2019 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

used interchangeably are cut mark, saw mark and tool mark. For
this article, saw mark is defined as a mark made with a
reciprocating action of the tool; cut mark is defined as a mark
made with a single action of the tool. Usually, a cut mark is made
with a knife, is V-shaped and has limited information; however,
cut marks in cartilage may capture several features of the tool.
Typically, a saw mark is made with a saw and tends to record
more characteristics of the tool in the floor and walls of the
mark. For this article, the term tool mark is reserved for the field
of tool mark examination. Also, it is used as a general term
referring to a mark that could be made by any type of tool in any
type of medium.

Features of cut and saw marks are classified as class or
individual characteristics. Class characteristics are indicative of a
tool type, for example a serrated knife or alternating saw.
Individual characteristics are indicative of a specific (individual)
knife or saw. Some researchers have argued that a cut or saw mark
can be matched to a specific tool using individual characteristics.
This is a controversial area within forensic science. The Scientific
Working Group of Anthropology clearly states in the Trauma
Analysis guideline that identifying a specific tool from features of
the cut or saw mark is an unacceptable practice [1]. Research that
ventures into the identification of individual characteristics of a cut
or saw mark is summarized below, but with reservation. The
author does not advocate for matching a cut or saw mark with a
specific tool.


Table 1
Saw and cut mark analysis terminology.

General terms
Tool type A class of a tool such as serrated knife, alternating saw, hacksaw
Class characteristic Feature observed in a cut or saw mark that is indicative of a tool type
Individual characteristic Feature observed in a cut or saw mark that is specific to a tool
Crime mark A cut or saw mark created with an unknown tool often the mark found in the decedent
Test mark A cut or saw mark created with a known tool often created to compare to a crime mark

Tool characteristics
Tooth distance The distance between teeth of a saw
Tooth type The shape and beveling of each tooth of a tool (typically a saw)
Power source Manual or mechanical (e.g., electric, gas, pneumatics)
Tooth set How the teeth are placed along the blade; for example, an alternating saw has a pattern of a tooth bent to the right, then a tooth bent

to the left, and so on.
Teeth per unit length (Tooth
per inch (TPI))

Number of teeth per each unit length of the saw blade

Interserration distance Distance between two consecutive teeth along a serrated knife
Degree of wear Wear of the tool from use

Cut/saw mark features
Kerf Cut or saw mark
Kerf wall Wall of a cut or saw mark
Kerf floor Floor of a cut or saw mark
False start Incomplete saw mark
Kerf width The distance across the saw or cut mark typically measured at the minimum width
Kerf wall shape Description of the saw or cut mark wall alignment when viewed from directly above the surface
Kerf floor shape (also known
as kerf class)

Shape of the kerf floor when viewed from the side of the cut surface

Tooth hop Waves observed in the kerf wall caused by the saw moving up and down as each tooth enters the material
Blade drift (or cut surface drift) Directional change (drift) in the markings of the saw mark floor created by the back and forth motion of the saw as each tooth enters

the material, typically seen in marks created with alternating saw.
Harmonics Distance between peaks observed three-dimensionally in the kerf wall
Interstriation distance Distance between two striations measured on a cut surface.
Micro-striation Striation that reflect individual defects in the tool’s beveled edge typically less than 1mm in interstriation distance
Pullout striations Grooves in the kerf wall that are created when a saw is lifted out of a saw mark (in a perpendicular direction) mid-cut. The distance

between two grooves is the distance between two teeth set to the corresponding side of the saw.
Striation regularity Uniform placement of striations along the kerf wall indicative of power source.
Cut mark shape Shape of the cut mark viewed perpendicular to the cut surface. For marks created with serrated and nonserrated knives, it is defined

as Y, T or V shape.
Cut mark width Distance across a cut mark (similar to kerf width)
Cut mark length Length of a cut mark along its long axis
Wall angle (cut mark) Maximum angle between the two adjacent walls intersecting on the cut mark floor
Serrated angle (only present in
Y shape cut marks)

Maximum (obtuse) angle between the wall that does not intersect the floor and its adjacent wall which does

Floor radius Radius of the circle whose perimeter in tangential to the two adjacent walls intersecting on the cut mark floor
Features reflecting direction of cut and progression of the tool

Direction of saw progress
(Direction of cut)

Direction the saw or knife passes through the bone in regards to anatomic position

Breakaway spur Spur of bone at the endpoint of a complete saw cut
Exit chipping Small divots in the margins of the kerf wall created as the saw teeth exit the bone
Power stroke Push or pull of the saw that cuts material. Typically saw teeth are chiseled on one side and the saw only cuts when moving in one

Passive stroke Pull or push of the saw that does not cut the material

120 J.C. Love / Forensic Science International 299 (2019) 119–127

1. Saw marks in bone

Bonte [10] published a seminal article in saw mark analysis in
which he identified metric features of saw marks on bones (Fig. 1).
Bonte’s analysis included the examination of the shape and pattern
of striations observed in the wall (termed “kerf wall”) of a saw
mark and showed that several class characteristics of the saw are
recorded in the striation pattern. Bonte identified differences in the
striations produced by the passive and power strokes. The power
stroke, the movement that cuts through the material, created fine
marks in the kerf wall resulting from each tooth. The passive, non-
cutting, stroke created crude, deeper furrows resulting from all the
saw teeth being pulled along a single level. The number of fine
striations between two deep furrows reflected the number of saw
teeth engaged in the stroke. Bonte found that the number of
engaged teeth was approximately two-thirds the total number of
teeth in the saw blade and that the number of deep furrows
reflected the number of strokes completed during the cut. He also
identified regularly spaced scratches, termed “pull-out striations”,
which ran perpendicular to and crossed multiple layers of

striations. These marks were produced by grazing teeth when a
jammed saw was lifted out of a saw mark. The distance between
these perpendicularly oriented striations reflects the distance
between the teeth set to the corresponding side of the saw blade.

Bonte’s work was followed by Andahl [11]. Andahl divided the cut
mark into two components: the cut mark floor (termed “kerf floor”)
and kerf wall. He found recorded in the kerf floor, both in false starts
that reflected the number of teeth per unit length, degree of wear,
direction of cut and condition of the blade. He also showed that the
placement and condition of the striations impressed into the kerf wall
reflectedthetoothset. Andahlproposedathreestepmethodtoanalyze
a saw mark in order to identify the potential saw type: (1) identify a
possible saw type through detailed examination of the crime mark; (2)
create test marks using the inferred saw type, or the suspect saw when
available; and, (3) compare the characteristics of the test mark to the
crime mark. Andahl recognized that the striation pattern observed in
the kerf wall was complex and recommended creating a pencil rub of
the cut surface using various amounts of pressure or pressing the cut
surface on iodine impregnated paper to reduce the “noise”. Andahl

Fig. 1. Shown is a kerf wall of a saw mark in a femur. The measurements are taken from the peek to peek of a tooth hop. An eight teeth per inch alternating saw was used to
make the mark.

J.C. Love / Forensic Science International 299 (2019) 119–127 121

stated that, when comparing crime and test marks, the accuracy of the
marks. He continued, “if the examiner is experienced and the crime
mark contains sufficient detail then it will be found that only a blade
mark” ([11]; p 40–41). Andahl stopped short of stating a specific
weapon can be identified through a crime mark/test mark comparison,
but stated “if the saw is damaged the evidential value of a positive
comparison will be correspondingly higher” ([11]; p 44).

In 1992, Symes completed his dissertation titled Morphology of
Saw Marks in Human Bone: Identification of Class Characteristics [5].
Using 26 types of saws and serrated knives, Symes made ten cuts
with each tool in human bone. Through microscope analysis, he
observed numerous features of each mark that reflected the class
characteristics of the various tools. In his dissertation, Symes listed
five features of each tool and six features of the corresponding
mark made from each tool. The five characteristics of the tool were:
tooth set; tooth per inch; tooth distance; tooth type; and, power
source. The six characteristics of the saw mark were: kerf floor
shape; minimum kerf width; blade drift; cut surface drift, exit
chipping; and, harmonics. Symes did not weight the informative
value of each feature or discuss how to proceed when features
indicative of more than one tool were observed in a single cut.

Saville et al. [12] investigated the value of an environmental
scanning electron microscope (ESEM) for saw mark analysis. With
the higher magnification of the ESEM, the researchers recognized a
new feature of a saw mark that they termed micro-striation. The
authors found that the typical distance between deep furrows
formed by two passive strokes was 1–4 mm, fine striations formed
by a powered stroke was 30–400 mm, and micro-striations was less
than 1 mm. They hypothesized that the micro-striations reflected
individual defects in the tool’s beveled edge. To test this
hypothesis, the researchers made several test marks and mock
crime marks with four new and five used Jackplus Hardpoint
Handsaws. The researchers compared the crime marks to the test
marks and made a correct match for each comparison. Based on the
results, the authors concluded that use of ESEM to analyze a saw
mark expanded the discriminatory power of the analysis to the
point that enabled individual tool identification.

Freas [13] compared the value of light microscope and scanning
electronic microscope (SEM) while evaluating the effects of saw
wear on the expression of saw mark features [13]. She examined
consecutive cuts made in bone using a crosscut saw and hacksaw
with a light microscope and SEM. The author found that the
striations, especially the fine striations of the power stroke,
became less defined with each consecutive cut and the associated
wear of the saw teeth. The loss of detail was more significant in the
marks made with the crosscut saw than the hacksaw. She
hypothesized that the difference was due to the material hardness
of the saw blade; a crosscut saw is designed to cut wood and a
hacksaw is designed to cut metal. Despite the loss of detail, Freas
identified tooth hop in the saw marks made with the worn saws,
allowing her to conclude that a saw mark made with a worn saw
was eligible for analysis. Contrary to Saville et al. [12], Freas found
that the SEM was not analytically valuable for saw mark analysis on
bone; the high powered magnification obscured the overall
striation pattern important for class characteristic recognition.

In 2011, Bailey and van de Goot performed a study focused
solely on the kerf width of false starts [14]. The researchers
hypothesized that each saw type produces a different kerf width
and kerf width could be used to accurately exclude saws as possible
sources of a specific saw mark. To test their hypothesis, they used
ten saw types, five manual and five mechanical powered, to make
100 false starts, 10 saw marks per saw. The kerf width of each false
start was measured with dial calipers. Statistical cumulative
logistic regression models were used to analyze the data. Based on
the statistical model, 70–90% of the saws could be accurately
excluded as possible saws for each saw mark based on the
minimum kerf width. In a similar manner, Nogueira et al. [15]
evaluated the kerf width, kerf wall shape and kerf floor shape of
saw marks created in human and porcine bone using five saw
types. The authors found that the three features were useful in
identifying the class of the saw used to make the mark. Interesting,
they found differences in the saw marks made in porcine bone and
the saw marks made in human bone, indicating that porcine bone
may not be a good model for human bone in some studies.

Pelletti et al. [16] examined the value of micro-computed
(micro-CT) scans for analyzing saw marks. The researchers

122 J.C. Love / Forensic Science International 299 (2019) 119–127

examined 170 false starts experimentally created on porcine and
human femora using five different saws. Examining the micro-CT
scans, they recognized striae in the kerf floor, a feature missed with
the stereomicroscope. The researchers concluded that the striae
were informative to the tooth set. Further, the researchers found
differences in saw marks made in human and porcine bones with a
single saw, warning that bone source may affect the saw mark

Norman et al. [17] also investigated the value of micro-CT scans
for saw mark analysis. The researchers conducted a study of 270
saw and cut marks made in human bone using eight tools
(including two serrated knives) to answer four questions: (1) are
micro-CT scans of saw marks valuable for saw mark analysis; (2)
are saw marks created by different tools significantly different; (3)
can kerf width be used to predict blade width; and, (4) do saw
marks created under different conditions vary significantly? To
answer these questions, saw marks were made with the saw
controlled in a vice as well as made with an uncontrolled saw
mimicking true crime marks. Also, some of the bones were
defleshed and other bones had significant soft tissue at the time
the saw marks were created. Two analysts scored the kerf wall and
kerf floor shapes and measured five dimensions of each mark.
Evaluating the two qualitative assessments and five quantitative
assessments, the authors concluded that micro-CT is an appropri-
ate tool for analyzing saw marks. The target variables were visible
in the scans and the inter-observer measurement agreement was
high. The minimum kerf width was the most diagnostic feature of
the analysis with a significant difference between all tool types,
except for the two knives and two of the saw types. Also, the
researchers found a significant correlation between the kerf width
and blade width and were able to predict the blade width from the
kerf width with a high rate of accuracy when the bone was
defleshed and the saw cut controlled. Finally, the authors found
that various conditions (fleshed bone vs. defleshed bone and
controlled cuts vs. uncontrolled cuts) affected the features of the
saw mark indicating that controlled experimental saw marks may
not reflect the variability observed in forensic case work.

Greer [18] used surface metrology to examine striations
recorded in kerf walls of saw marks made with hacksaws and
reciprocating saws. Surface metrology enables quantitative analy-
sis of stria magnitude. The researcher evaluated the stria
magnitude of 87 saw marks made in porcine bone using six
reciprocating and eight hacksaws. Greer found a high level of
variability in stria magnitude across a single kerf wall as well as
between kerf walls created with different saw types. The analysis
showed that the stria magnitude was a poor feature for
distinguishing between hacksaw and reciprocating saw marks.

Berger et al. also examined saw mark features resulting from a
reciprocating saw and hacksaw [19]. For the study, the researchers
used five reciprocating saw blade types and one hacksaw to make
saw marks in partially defleshed deer limbs. Each blade was used to
make 10 complete saw marks and two false start kerfs. Multiple cut
marks were also made in deer cervical vertebrae to mimic
decapitation. Several unintentional false starts and deep scratches
were created while sawing the bones resulting in a total of 89
marks available for analysis. Prior to analysis, the bones were
macerated to remove the soft tissue. The saw marks were
examined with a light microscope. The saw marks were examined
for features following Symes [5] and [9] (described below). Of the
traits examined, six traits were significantly different between
blade types, and included: kerf width; false start shape; frequency
of blade drift; harmonics; exit chipping; and, striation regularity.
The researchers concluded that these features can be used to
accurately distinguish between saw marks made with a recipro-
cating saw and a hacksaw. Also, they concluded that different
reciprocating blades created different features in the saw mark.

Several researchers have focused their attention on analyzing
saw marks in compromised bone [20,21]. Pope and Smith
examined experimentally induced saw marks in burned skulls
(2004). The saw marks were easily recognized in the burned
specimen. Marciniak also examined saw marks in burned bone
(2009). She found that thermal destruction affected the visibility
and recognition of saw mark striations, but that false starts were
well-preserved in thermally damaged bones. She concluded that
valuable class characteristics of a saw mark are present in burned
bones [21].

In 2010, Symes et al. published a technical report for their
National Institute of Justice grant funded project titled Knife and
Saw Toolmark Analysis in Bone: A Manual Designed for the
Examination of Criminal Mutilation and Dismemberment [9]. The
objective of the study was to improve the scientific rigor of saw
mark analysis in order to increase its admissibility in court. The
project goals were (1) develop a manual of standardized
terminology and illustrative images, (2) use the manual to train
new analysts in saw mark analysis, and (3) test the accuracy of
these new analysts. Symes et al. successfully developed the manual
and used it to train analysts. To investigate the error rate of the new
analysts, the researchers asked 12 analysts to examine 20 saw
marks and classify each as resulting from a manual and mechanical
powered saw. The analysts correct classification rate was
approximately 70%. In addition to meeting the stated goals, Symes
et al. proposed in their technical report a saw mark analysis
website which would provide access to a comparative collection
database consisting of numerous saw marks created with 27 saws.
Unfortunately, it does not appear that the website is currently
available; the authors do not provide a website address.

Rather than continuing on the path of evaluating the error rate
associated with saw mark analysis, Love et al. [22] attempted to
define potential sources of error and develop a method to mitigate
the error. Borrowing heavily from the field of latent print
examination, the authors presented four possible sources of error
associated with saw mark analysis: human factor error; procedural
error; error of variability; and, outcome error [22,23]. Human
factor error and procedural error are failures directly related to the
analyst. Human factor error is an error in performing an analysis
such as mismeasuring a variable. Procedural error is a failure to
follow a specific procedure such as a failure to examine and
document all features associated with an analysis. These errors can
be mitigated with appropriate training and proficiency testing, and
were the focus of the work done by Symes et al. [9]. Error of
variability is an error associated with intra-individual variability,
e.g., differences between saw marks made with a single tool, and
inter-individual variability, e.g., differences between saw marks
made with two different tools. Outcome error is the reporting of
the wrong event. For saw mark analysis, it is reporting a saw mark
was created using an alternating saw when the mark was actually
created with a rip saw. An ideal method utilizes features with low
intra-individual variability and high inter-individual variability
and limits or reports the potential for outcome error. Previously, no
study attempted to measure the intra- or inter-individual
variability of saw mark features or attempted to weight the
informative value of the respective features. The traditional
method provides no guidance on which features are more
informative or how to handle conflicting features, features
indicative of more than one saw type. The analyst depends on
his experience to navigate these difficulties. Love et al. [22] tried to
address these concerns using statistical modeling: tree classifica-
tion; and, random forest classifier. The researchers created 30
complete and 30 false start saw marks using four saws. Three
analysts examined each saw mark for 15 features following the
training manual developed by Symes et al. [9]. Five of the 15
features were observed too infrequently to be included in the

Fig. 2. (A) Shown is a cast of pig costal cartilage cut with a serrated knife. The knife
had a series of coarse and fine serrations creating a primary and secondary pattern
of striations. (B) Shown is a cast of pig costal cartilage cut with a nonserrated knife.
Note the absence of striations.

J.C. Love / Forensic Science International 299 (2019) 119–127 123

statistical modeling. Several classification and random forest
classifiers were run on the data and floor shape and minimum
kerf width were found to be informative variables for the specific
data set. The classification tree enables the discriminatory value of
each variable to be measured and constructs a pathway to an
outcome based on the empirical data and not the experience of the
examiner, reducing error of variability and outcome error.

2. Cut marks in bone and cartilage

Research in cut mark analysis includes the examination of
marks on bone and cartilage. Cut marks in bone record limited
characteristics of the tool; often kerf floor shape and minimum kerf
width are the only variables recorded. However, cut marks in
cartilage often record characteristics indicative of the tool type,
including serrated or non-serrated, and if serrated, the serration
pattern (Fig. 2). Research in cut mark analysis has focused on
recording cut mark features and associating them to tool type,
evaluating examination modalities, measuring inter- and intra-
individual variability, and identifying error rate.

Bronte [41] published one of the first article describing cut
marks in cartilage. In his article he very briefly describes how cut
marks present in cartilage; then, proceeds by providing a long
description of saw marks in bone. Little can be gleaned from the
article, but it did set in motion a body of research critical to the
development of cut mark analysis in cartilage. Watson [24]
examined impression evidence made from two consecutively
manufactured Buck knives and found that each produced a unique
striation pattern. Rao and Hart [25] publish a case study in which a
crime mark in human costal cartilage was matched to a test mark
made with the suspect weapon. In order to facilitate the
comparison, the cut mark in costal cartilage was cast with dental
impression material. The suspect knife was used to make test
marks in cellulose acetate butyrate, a yellow rubbery material. The
crime mark and test mark were compared using a firearm
comparison microscope. The major striations of the test mark
matched the major striation of the crime mark. The analysts
concluded a match between the crime and test marks.

Bartelink et al. [26], examining cut marks on bone, evaluated
the discriminative value of minimum cut mark width measured
with a SEM. The researchers used three nonserrated blades (scalpel
blade, paring knife, and kitchen utility knife) to create 60 cut marks
(20 per blade type) in a human long bone. They created controlled
cut marks using a mechanical device that controlled for angle,
direction and force and experimental cut marks by hand without
control of the various parameters. The cut mark width was
significantly different for all three blades, but it also was
significantly different between the control and experiment cuts
made with each of the blades. Furthermore, there was overlap of
the cut mark widths between the three knife types limiting the
discriminative value of the feature.

Cerutti et al. [27] also evaluated the relationship between the
dimensions of a cut mark and the dimensions of the knife blade. To
perform the experiment, the researchers created cut marks on
porcine femoral diaphyses using 11 different knives and a
mechanical device that controlled for blade angle and force. Ten
cut marks were made with each blade held perpendicular to the
bone surface and 10 cuts marks were made with each blade held at
an angle to the bone surface. Depth, width and angle of the cut
marks were measured and compared to the beveled angle of the
blades. The measurements of the cut marks showed wide overlap
between the various blades and did not correlate with the
dimensions of the blade.

Norman et al. [17] investigated the value of micro-CT scans for
cut mark analysis on bone. The researchers designed two studies.
For the first study, they created 14 cut marks on dried porcine ribs

using two knives, one serrated and one nonserrated. The
researchers used a mechanical device to create the cut marks
controlling the level of force and blade angle. For the second study,
the researchers used nine knives to create 273 cut marks in a
porcine thorax. Two male participants created the cut marks

124 J.C. Love / Forensic Science International 299 (2019) 119–127

without controlling for force or angle in an effort to mimic a real-
world scenario. The cut marks were examined with micro-CT
scanning, optic laser scanning, SEM, and light microscope. The
researchers recorded several features, many newly defined, of the
cut marks, including: cut mark shape; length; wall angle; serrated
angle; floor radius; and striations. The researchers found that they
could easily score the various features on the micro-CT scans and
that measurements were taken with high inter-observer reliability.
SEM was required to observe the striations; the resolution of the
micro-CT was not adequate for this purpose. However, striations
were observed on few of the specimens. Furthermore, optic laser
scanning did not capture the features of the cut marks well. The
researchers found that knife type can be correctly identified from
cut mark width and floor radius, and that blade edge thickness is
correlated with cut mark width. Interesting, the cut marks made
following the second study design (real-world scenario) were
more variable than the cut mark made following the first study
design resulting in greater i

Sharp Force Trauma Relating To Cultural Anthropology

Two to three-page assignment on how you can relate sharp force trauma studies in forensic anthropology to cultural anthropology. Associating violence to specific cultural practices or rituals, etc. 

Multiple sources have been attached for reference (do not need to use them all) and outside sources are welcome. DUE DATE IS SUNDAY APRIL 24 AT 5 PM EST.