The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Skeletal trauma in a Black South African Apartheid-era sample from the Raymond Dart Collection


1Sociology & Anthropology, St. John's University, 2Sociology & Anthropology, Texas Tech University, 3Anthropology, University of Maryland

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This paper examines skeletal trauma in a sample of 27 apartheid-era Black South Africans (1945-1990) drawn from the Raymond Dart Skeletal Collection, Department of Anatomical Sciences, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. Autopsy reports provide information about the sex, age at death, year of death, ethnicity, and cause of death for each case. The sample was derived from individuals whose cause of death was from some form of malnutrition. Therefore the selection was random with respect to skeletal trauma. Nineteen of the 27 individuals (70%) exhibited skeletal trauma, including 6 of 8 females (75%) and 13 of 19 males (68%). Eleven of the 19 individuals with trauma (58%) had evidence of multiple traumatic events. Females experienced multiple nonlethal injuries to both the facial/maxillary and post-cranial areas of the body (e.g., ulna, ribs). Males experienced more nonlethal injuries to their cranial bones. A Fisher’s exact test supports a statistically significant difference between female and male patterns of trauma. Even though individuals in this sample suffered quiet deaths from malnutrition there is clear evidence to suggest their lives reflected violent experiences. Overall, the data from this 20th century autopsied skeletal collection must be understood in a context that is linked to conflict and poverty of the apartheid-era, with noticeable differences in the types of trauma between males and females. Case studies such as this contribute to a greater understanding and recognition of interpersonal trauma that is applicable to establishing the osteological life histories of individuals.

This research was supported in part by a St. John's University Faculty Development Grant and a Texas Tech University Graduate Faculty Research Travel Grant.

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