Isabella Thomson

2023 McNair Scholar, Isabella Thomson

University of New Hampshire
McNair Scholar, 2023
Major: Anthropology & Classics
Mentors: Dr. Amy Michael, Dr. Alex Garcia-Putnam, and Dr. Samantha McCrane
Research Title: Person to Object: Dehumanization, Violence, and the Unethical Treatment of Human Skeletal Remains

This work explores the collection and unethical treatment of human skeletal remains and how it contributes to dehumanization and necroviolence. Here, I interrogate these themes through three case studies of human skeletal remains currently being analyzed at the Forensic Anthropology Identification and Recovery (F.A.I.R.) Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire. The first is the case of a human femur, which is decorated with 23 transverse notches down the anterior femoral shaft, painted imagery of rattlesnakes on either side, and a complicated backstory allegedly involving the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The second case is a human cranium and a mandible, both from the same private collection that were acquired together and originally believed to be from the same individual but were determined to be from two separate individuals. The third is a human cranium with multiple gunshot wounds (GSW) from another private collection. While each case differs significantly, they all have the commonality of being used as trophy items and collectibles--in effect, transforming these once living people into objects of study, fascination, or ritual--an unethical practice that strips the individual of their personhood in death. I argue that these acts constitute a form of violence (post-mortem or necroviolence) and dehumanization. In this work, I use these case studies to not only shine a light on these unethical practices, but also in the hopes of helping to provide an avenue for these individuals' stories to be told.

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