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Analysis of Skeletal Demographics and Traumatic Injuries from the Khmer Rouge–Period Mass Gravesite of Choeung Ek, Cambodia

Julie M. Fleischman

Abstract


The Khmer Rouge regime controlled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. Conditions were severe, and it is estimated that approximately 1.7 million individuals died from overwork, malnutrition, and violence. Hundreds of thousands were executed and buried in mass graves throughout the country. Many of these graves were exhumed during the 1980s, but until recently the disinterred human remains had not been scientifically analyzed on a large scale. This paper will discuss the osteological analysis of more than five hundred crania conducted at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (Choeung Ek) in Phnom Penh. Choeung Ek was used by the Khmer Rouge as the execution and burial location for one of its highest-level detention centers.

The crania at Choeung Ek were assessed for demographic characteristics and traumatic injuries. Results indicate that the majority of the 508 crania were estimated to be male (82.9%) and young adults (68.3%) between 20 and 35 years of age. Perimortem trauma was present on 311 crania (61%), with 179 (58%) having discernible impact locations. Blunt force injuries (87%) were the most common mechanism of trauma, and the basicranium (53%) was the most frequently affected region. When the mechanism and location of traumatic injuries were evaluated by sex and age-at-death categories, no statistically significant differences were found, indicating that all victims with perimortem trauma were subjected to similar execution methods regardless of their age or sex. These remains stand as a testament to Khmer Rouge violence as well as a solemn memorial to those who perished.


Keywords


Forensic anthropology; skeletal trauma; Cambodia; Khmer Rouge

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5744/fa.2019.1027