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The consequence of this is often an explanation for violence as aberrant behavior that deviates from the norm; anthropological studies, in contrast, view violence as part of the repertoire of human behavior that can become normalized with an underlying cultural logic to it.

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Counting the number of individuals within populations and time periods that died violent deaths is one way to quantify and compare levels of physical violence within and between groups. For example, Pinker wrote over pages on the history of human violence but in the book he provides no working definition of what violence is.

When pressed, he provided that it was physical force with the intent to do bodily harm. His notion of violence is that it is physical and direct, and it can be documented by counting the number of lethal encounters. At the heart of his argument is the idea that humans on the whole are becoming less physically violent and more able to mediate social problems through other means.

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Much of his proof for this is frequency data that purports to show that the percentage of those who died at the hands of others have decreased in two ways, from ancient to modern times, and from WWI to the present. While there may be some truth to the declining percentage of deaths due to military and wartime combat, this is a very narrow way of viewing violence and is quite misleading see critique by Ferguson, Forensic anthropologists have shown that homicide and other forms of lethal traumatic injury are not always easy to identify and doing so requires precise analyses that rule out all possibilities until there is only one diagnosis Berryman and Symes, ; Tomczak and Buikstra, ; Galloway, b ; Moraitis and Spiliopoulou, ; Calce and Rogers, ; Kremer and Sauvageau, ; Guyomarc'h et al.

An example of how historical records can be misleading is illustrated by the reanalysis of the skeletonized remains of the Kiel brothers who died in Las Vegas in October of Brooks and Brooks, ; Crandall et al. While this case only changes the homicide count from the historic record by 1, it demonstrates how subjective cause of death analyses can be. Without autopsy and forensic records, it is problematic to rely on historic and archival reports that do not provide detailed information on the cause of death Burton and Underwood, ; Palmer, Anthropologists on the whole utilize a broader and more inclusive approach to the notion of what constitutes human violence.

However, when violence is viewed as part of the social fabric of human cultures, the suffering of humans at the hands of others is in fact patterned, purposeful and operationalized just as any other social system e. A partial listing of these studies on violence include foci on torture and trauma, violations in human rights, institutionalized violence, ritualized violence, theatres of violence, social reproduction of violence, war and warfare, as well as the cultural meanings of murder, homicide, suicide, and genocide.

Collectively, these anthropological studies into violence provide a persuasive tableau where violence is an intricate and deeply embedded part of everyday life, historical processes, and social relations. Violence in the research of most anthropologists constitutes the study of a cultural system that has an underlying logic to it and that operates within social relationships and institutionalized structures Dominguez, Yet, not all violence is sanctioned or normalized, such as murder, homicide, cartel violence, or suicide.

The problem is that these kinds of violence often show strong patterns and although deemed illegal or immoral, are not prevented but rather are reproduced over generations see Reza et al.


Illegal and legal forms of violence are often linked or tethered in the contemporary world Ember and Ember, and are equally difficult to untangle for the ancient world Erdal and Erdal, Historical patterns and cultural context are crucial for obtaining an understanding of how and when violence is used by groups. In addition to this, the life history of individuals has to be fleshed out to the extent that it can be. This is accomplished by looking at the syndemic nature of violence. Ostrach and Singer clearly showed that during periods of warfare there were nutritional and health impacts that are not directly related to physical trauma.

Thus, to understand the full effect that episodes of violence have on groups in the past it is important to examine traumatic injuries in conjunction with other factors such as age, sex, and health status. Studying the history of violence in this complex web of human relationships is more challenging than counting war dead, but therein lie the answer to the question: Why are humans violent? Reading the anthropological studies compiled by Dominguez , one learns that bodily harm due to lack of food, sleep, clothing ands shelter can be as real and as traumatic as a sword to the chest or a blow to the head.

The fear of physical violence is what often keeps individuals from attempting to change the system or buck the culture Galtung, Thus, a more difficult to examine but realistic definition of violence is needed.

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Our work on the topic of violence examines the ways that it can be both a detrimental and beneficial behavior within communities, and how its expression and meaning vary by context Martin and Frayer, ; Martin and Harrod, a ; Martin et al. While violence can be the use of power to physically injure or kill, Whitehead a has shown that there are other times when violence can be a regenerative force that leads to things like cultural renewal or regeneration.

Contextualized, theorized, and compared strategically, these data can reveal much more about individual and group behaviors and helps answer the question: If violence is the solution, what was the problem? There are cases where peace is maintained through institutions and activities that enforce social control, and some of these forms of social control can produce traumatic injuries.

Biological anthropologists analyzing human skeletal remains to understand violence in its fullest and richest formulations rely on the biocultural approach and the integration of three research strategies that link data at three different levels. These include: 1 the analysis of evidential data from the skeletal remains, 2 the analysis of contextual data from reconstructions of mortuary features, material culture, environment, subsistence, political and economic structures and other aspects of the culture from which the remains are from, and 3 the use of social theory based on ethnographic work that provides an effective way of formulating and evaluating hypotheses Fig.

These approaches are discussed in some depth in the following sections. Bioarchaeology of violence integrates three levels of analysis into a framework that includes skeletal evidence, mortuary and archaeological context, and social theory. A bioarchaeological approach that incorporates archaeological and ethnographic information provides an antidote to the spatially and temporally confined studies of violence from other disciplines.

It can shine a light on the nature of what violence is and how long it has existed in both our biological and cultural evolutionary history. Bioarchaeology has the potential to bridge the gap between the past and the present with scientific data that is empirical, robust, and quantifiable Martin et al. Bioarchaeologists engaged in research on violence in ancient groups have much to offer in terms of being able to demonstrate the interrelatedness of violence with other aspects of culture in ways that are not possible through other disciplinary lenses.

Violence both lethal and nonlethal often leaves anomalies and changes on bones that can be partially or wholly interpreted Lovell, , ; Galloway, b ; Walker, ; Wedel and Galloway, However, there are a number of other reference materials that are useful for interpreting traumatic injuries on human skeletal remains Reichs, ; Haglund and Sorg, ; Bass, ; Katzenberg and Saunders, ; Byers, ; Burns, ; DiGangi and Moore, ; White et al. It is crucial to understand that while bioarchaeologists use forensic methods, forensic anthropologists have been vocal about the care with which bioarchaeologists must interpret traumatic injuries that result from violent encounters Jackes, ; Kremer et al.

Interpreting what is observable on ancient human skeletal remains is based on having a very detailed understanding of how the body reacts to different kinds of external forces utilizing a largely biomechanical i. At its most basic level, mechanical loads that affect hard connective tissue or bone usually fall into one of five categories—compression, tension, shear, torsion and bending. Depending on the direction and force of the impact as well as the morphology of the bone, different types of fractures result Manoli, ; Hannon, ; Fig. The most common injuries are those that occur as an accident or as a result of an unforeseen occupational hazard.

These injuries result from slips and falls, crushing from falling objects, and collisions with obstructions in the environment. Illustrates some of the major types of fractures. Nancy Lovell provides a thorough overview of the different ways bones can break or fracture. While there are a number of different types of fractures that affect the postcranial bones, fractures to the skull, both the cranium and mandible, are important because they are a good indicator of violence.

Looking at the cranial vault first, Thomas describes four basic types of fractures: linear, depressed, comminuted, and penetrating. The difference between these fractures is a result of the energy being transmitted to the skull, the location of the impact, and the shape of the object striking the bone Berryman and Haun, Both linear fractures and comminuted fractures of the cranium are caused by impact with wider objects, whereas depressed and penetrating fractures are a result of narrow objects Galloway, a.

The Bioarchaeology of Violence

An example of a linear fracture would be a slip and fall where an individual hit the back of their head on an elevated surface e. In contrast, an example of a depressed fracture would be getting hit in the head with a tubular object e.

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In addition to cranial vault fractures there are also fractures specific to the face e. Specific to violence, Phillip Walker notes that though cranial depression fractures can be a consequence of accidents they are more likely to be the result of interpersonal conflict. More recent research provides criteria for distinguishing accidental and VRIs to the head by focusing on trauma above the hat brim line, multiple trauma on various areas of the cranium, and those trauma that affect the facial region Hussain et al. Thus, one method for avoiding over ascribing trauma to violence is to focus on cranial depression fractures on the head that are likely to be from blunt force trauma.

Yet, even these can be problematic as depressions can be the result of pathological conditions Spencer, The result is that all potential traumatic injuries have to be evaluated in context and researchers should be open to multiple interpretations for what the change to the bone may reflect.

Fractures of the postcranial skeleton can be of interest when analyzing violence. When assessed in combination with cranial trauma it can provide support for or refute the likelihood that the injury was related to violence Larsen, For example, there are certain classic fractures that are often thought to indicate violence e. The problem according to Margaret Judd is that the fracture can also be a consequence of accidental injury e. Yet, interpretation of the mechanism of injury is still limited as it is impossible to establish the timing of when each injury occurred unless they both happened at or around the time of death.


Finally, any study of violence in the past must not only analyze trauma but other information about the individual and the culture that reveals patterns of violence. For example, in addition, to simply counting fractures, it is important to also look at pathological conditions Mann and Hunt, Markers of disease on the bone include a wide range of things that can be related to genetics, age, activity, or health. Types of injuries associated with this category are hip dislocations, fractures due to osteoporosis, osteoarthritis causing pain in the lower back, as well as repetitive injuries e.

It is important to realize that many of these mechanisms of injury can be occurring simultaneously within the same individual. A person may be a victim of violence, work in a dangerous environment, and be exposed to high risk of pathological conditions. This is examined in the collection of case studies published in the International Journal of Paleopathology as a Special Issue on violence in past cultures Martin and Harrod, b.

She framed this as a form of violence against women that affected millions of women in the s.

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This combined approach using clinical, medical, skeletal and documentary sources provides a rich context with which to better understand why these cultural practices exist and what the implications were for a subgroup in this case, all females. Another example of contextualized research is that of de la Cova who conducted a study of skeletal trauma in a 19th century cadaver collection housed at the National Museum of Natural History called the Terry Collection.

Utilizing skeletal evidence as well as historical documents she was able to show that much of the violence she found was associated with interpersonal and structural violence related to practices in early Mental Institutions, and not due to domestic abuse as had been surmised in an earlier analysis. The assumption of many scholars was that this collection of human remains with known age at death and sex could be used to refine aging and sexing methods.

In this way, she was able to begin to reconstruct the axes around which forms of structural violence were based. Contextualizing human remains where there are no written records depends on meticulous reconstruction of the archaeological record.