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Sarah Wagner


“Individual identification is a primary goal for forensic anthropologists who work in medicolegal and humanitarian contexts,” Palmiotto et al. set out in the opening of their technical
note on methods of estimating the minimum number of individuals among commingled remains. No doubt they are right, but their claim has context, as does the more general practice of disentangling and piecing back together bodies—more precisely, their skeletal elements, however partial or fragmented—that the eight contributions to this special issue address. Simply put, individually identifying war dead, or victims of violent conflict, natural disaster, or whatever incident of mass fatality, is a relatively modern phenomenon. As historian Thomas Laqueur argues, “We live in an age of necronominalism; we record and gather the names of the dead in ways, and in places, and in numbers as never before. We demand to know who the dead are. We
find unnamed bodies and bodiless names—those of the disappeared—unbearable” (2015:366; emphasis added).

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