The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Evaluating the Agency of Soviet Violence Workers through Analysis of Skeletal Trauma in the Tuskulenai Case


Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University

Thursday 11:45-12:00, 200ABC Add to calendar

The Soviet Union’s state security apparatus (NKVD) has been characterized as an efficient bureaucracy, which specialized in the identification, detention, and punishment of enemies throughout the Soviet Republics. In particular, Soviet authorities mandated that the only legitimate means of execution was by fusillade, or gunshot to the back of the head. While historical data has largely focused on state officials who organized violence, less attention has been given to agents who actually performed violence in the name of the state. Skeletal analysis of trauma provides researchers with the opportunity not only to study the death experiences of victims, but also to evaluate the behavior and motivation of violence workers. This study analyzes the sex and age of victims, and the nature of trauma in a sample of prisoners executed by the NKVD in the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic from 1944 to 1947. Specifically, this project attempts to understand how patterns of violence differ between two primary execution squads. Based on historical data, no difference in trauma patterns was expected. Preliminary results indicate that the majority of prisoners were young and middle aged males. Additionally, evidence for perimortem trauma differ between the execution squads, with one squad exhibiting up to 90% compliance with state standards while the other demonstrated as low as 50%. Thus, this study reveals that state agents did not consistently adhere to guidelines as established by bureaucratic elites and proposes explanations for the improvisation of violence.

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