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TEDxBuenosAires - Mercedes Salado Puerto - 04/08/10

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Mercedes Salado Forensic Anthropology: Science and Human Rights Wow, well, good evening, I am going to try, as Luis would say not to sing the terror song, but to get a little closer to the little tree When one speaks of forensic anthropology there will be many of you that will have different notions in your head Surely, most will think of places more or less strange where there are common graves You will think, surely, of bone remains, generally in common graves In something big, that's what TV usually shows us And, finally, and regrettably, most people has this image in their head Of the first two images, believe me that they are part of the day to day practice, and are in fact real scenarios But forget this one, forget the third, because there are no bone hands coming out unsevered Our field is much simpler, and I want to teach you today another side of it I want to show you the side that you don't usually see, that usually is not on TV That are usually not even the victims or the missing people themselves But those to whom our message goes to Its these peoples families, and ourselves How we feel in what we do, why we do it, and for whom we do it There are many ways to use forensic anthropology In the recovery and identification of the victims remains Of different human right's violations, of different massacres or events There are many ways to search, starting from the missing person to the identification of his remains Or from the remains to who it is. You can see we have bodies without identity, and we have identities without a body And necessarily they have to unite at some point. Our job is to try and unite these. Its pretty simple, not as spectacular as what you see on TV. What do we do to get it done? Just about everything. We don't study a bone, we study all the information that has to necessarily sorround that case. We study that documentation, even in a clandestine organization There's always a burocratic procedure that leaves trailings, fortunately. Listings, accusations, in different situations, different sides of the truth Documents that were created, and that in spite of not having a name That is what we are looking, after all, they start having a date Having, a place, having messages between the lines That even if they are hidden, we can reinterpret them yo use them in the quest for the remains of these people. Techniques to find common graves, fortunately science keeps moving forward It is constantly offering us geophysical techniques more and more modern that allows us to track all this. Obviously, interviews with families, interviews with many voices that progressively provide us with information. Not just phyisical information of the people we are looking for, of the victims But of their relationships, their life history, their millitancy, their occupation. All that information that we need to be able to compare afterwards. Interviews with witnesses, witnesses of the kidnapping, witnesses of the death, With witnesses of, possibly, the creation of clandestine common graves Obviously, there is a second stage of the archeological recovery of these remains. In this stage, we find ourselves in multiple contexts Of theses multiple contexts, some can be quite unbelievable Like this man that was left halfway through the entrance of a cave Very complex multiple contexts. But in the end, they force us not to see just a group of bones He is not a group of bones, he is a person that was thrown face down in a pit. And as you can see he has his hands and feet tied down You can see that a picture is worth a thousand words. We do not exhume bones, we exhume answers. We are exhuming that history that we can interpret and that we can offer so that someone else can interpret it Evidently, a person that respects' his life Would not throw him that way in a common grave We start interpreting that surely it mustn't have been his relatives that interred him, we start searching for the answer Evidently, we have a clear interlocutor. We should not throw words arround, we should not have that answer to ourselves. If you see the answer that we are tracking, it take us to the lab too. And it won't be the same, depending on the state, evidently, of preservation that we encounter ourselves with It's not the same studying the remains of this person than studying fragmented, cremated remains Where we have an obvious limit. We have two big questions, and they are quite simple: Who are they? And, how did they die? To find out who they are, science keeps offering us a lot of help Pathologists, physicians, they keep offering us their tools so that even through a bone Even thirty years later, we can see different signs that allows us to start creating a hypothesis Narrowing down who that person might be Or even make an identity hypothesis We won't identify a person with its personal belongings But it's a good starting point that could take us, after trying to corroborate How do we corroborate? This might seem silly, but to identify is to compare You can't identify a person if you cant compare this information that we get from the lab All that information that we gathered in the first stage We have to compare medical records, dental records, and fortunately again, science keeps offering us help What did they die of? Well, that too we need to try and interpret the answer to what it was that caused the death And not just of finding a patter of what was it that caused it, but even to reconstruct the trayectory of these impacts Because it's not the same the amount of lesions a person has Where they are and where they came from, morally or legally Obviously we have to offer that answer to someone We have to offer it to the true point of this investigation We have to give back as scientists that certainty to those waiting for it, and that's them. The relatives of the victims, and our bosses, in this case, justice. Because they have to keep on with the second fase that is the search for penal responsabilities At that point this skeleton is not a skeleton anymore, not a bag of bones Its a way to give back to that person, to that family, an answer that was hidden over thirty years I want to quickly tell you that this is our circle and that we mustn't leave it It's a circle of science, but that it's necessarily wrapped up in another circle, and another, and another, and another. And the limits between them are not accuratelly defined. So, as scientists we must remain within the confines of our little science circle We must be aware that each and every one of our acts is going to have a domino effect on others I want to tell you, in three minutes, the story of skeleton ABD6B12 of Avellaneda cementery that was recovered by the argentinian forensic anthropology team a few years back, burried in sector 134 This skeleton belongs to an adult individual 27 years old, approximately That died due to multiple fire arm proyectile impacts We found in his skeleton, during the analysis, several indications of who he may be for example, a dental prothesis he had, that narrowed down quite a lot the universe of detained missing people there might be Well, finally, through the genetic analysis we could identify him, and science achieved this I give you Luis Alberto Ciancio, borned the 24 of april of 1951 in the province of Buenos Aires He was an engineering student that worked in the city of La Plata He got married to Patricia, and they had a son, the 7 of december 1976, both of them were kidnapped in the city of La Plata They were taken to a clandestine facility, o several of them, and they were seen in at least one by survivors He was murdered, and his remains were interred as an NN in the Avellaneda cementery, where the argentinian team was able to recover him a few years later A few months back we could recover his remains, identify him, over thirty years later And his family, who are watching now over the internet and who I really appreciate that they allowed us to tell their story today Decided to bury him in the Berizzo cementery. We still couldn't recover the remains of Patricia But I want to use his story to explain that we go from offering anwers to being witnesses of this too We end up changing our way to see science because science should not be vain I think science should not be empty I am a biologist, I am part of pure science, I started as a biological anthropologist in Guatemala working with child malnutrition Until at some point I couldn't actually see any more children starve So I became a forensic, where at least nobody can die, but one can go on the positive side It might sound silly, but its my story I actually would have never pictured myself doing this and working with death, that to a lot of people may seem morbid That from death you can gain so much life, that from death hope can arise, relief, comfort, justice. And joy, death can generate processes of life, and we as scientists I think, we must be aware that from our little circle from which we must not get out, because we know The consecuences of our actions if we do, we have something that is part of, as a great phylosopher said Of our infinit responsability towards one another. Thank you.

Video Details

Duration: 12 minutes and 31 seconds
Year: 2010
Country: Argentina
Language: Spanish (Spain)
Genre: None
Producer: TEDxBuenosAires
Director: TEDxBuenosAires
Views: 115
Posted by: mampy3000 on Jun 9, 2010

Mercedes Salado Puerto graduated and got a PhD in Biology in the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, specializing in genetics first, and anthropology afterwards. After working for several years in Guatemala, she joined the Argentinian Team of Forensic Anthropology.

She has participated in numerous international missions, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Chipre, Guatemala, Iran, Irak, Marruecos, Sudan, Timor, among others.

She has been a forensic anthopology profesor in numerous latinamerican countries, and has published several papers in her field of expertise.

Warning: Some of the images in the presentation are strong and can affect the viewer's sensitivity.

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