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date: 28 February 2021

Abstract and Keywords

The last decade of the twentieth century witnessed the forensic exhumation of human remains on an unprecedented scale. Drawn into what had previously been the terrain of forensic anthropology, archaeologists have been called on to deal with the large numbers of mass graves uncovered at multiple sites across the world. However, forensic archaeological or anthropological accounts have tended to remain outside of the frame of theoretical debate in archaeology. While forensic archaeology as a field is distinguished from forensic anthropology in the UK, in the US the term ‘forensic anthropology’ encompasses both specialisms. Additionally, the term ‘forensic’ is often used to cover a broad spectrum of archaeological interventions, many of which are not concerned with providing legal evidence. This article begins by looking at the complex relationship between the forensic role of archaeology in assembling evidence for judicial scrutiny, and its humanitarian focus in relation to funerary ritual and the return of human remains to families. It then discusses the scientific operations of archaeology as sense-making acts in the context of its location within mortuary practices more broadly.

Keywords: forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology, funerary ritual, sense-making acts, mortuary practices

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