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

The legacy of Dr. Karen Ramey Burns: a focus on the individual in forensic and bioarchaeological contexts


1Anatomy and Neurobiology, Boston University School of Medicine, 2Behavorial Sciences, University of Michigan-Dearborn

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Since the emergence of both forensic anthropology and bioarchaeology, scholars have spent considerable amounts of time describing skeletal remains of individuals. As a student of the late William Maples who was known for his analyses of notable individuals such as the conquistador Francisco Pizarro and President Zachary Taylor, Karen Ramey Burns was trained in this intellectual tradition. During her remarkable career, Kar Burns contributed to the study of the individual through her analysis of well-known cases such as the Polish-born Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski and the American aviator Amelia Earhart. Burns also spent time placing emphasis on individuals such as those victims from the Raboteau Massacre in Haiti. In the ensuing trial, Burns initiated the first use of physical evidence in a Haitian court that led to the successful prosecution of many perpetrators of human rights abuses, including military leaders. Recently, bioarchaeologists have embraced the individual as a discrete unit of analysis in an emerging body of work included within a framework of social bioarchaeology. These scholars generate osteobiographies of individual skeletons in order to examine social contexts of identity and life-history. Analyzing individual skeletons has allowed scholars to consider new questions on topics ranging from physical impairment to political resistance. Using a published case of an individual skeleton recovered from the DeArmond site in Roane County, Tennessee during the illustrious WPA-era excavations of the 1940s, we hope to contribute to the discussion related to the study of individuals and the bioarchaeology of impairment and social constructions of disability.

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