Degree Type

Honors Capstone Project

Date of Submission

Spring 5-1-2014

Capstone Advisor

Shannon A. Novak Associate Professor of Anthropology

Honors Reader

Cristian Silva Director of Operations, International Field Initiatives and Forensic Training (IFIFT)

Capstone Major


Capstone College

Arts and Science

Audio/Visual Component


Capstone Prize Winner


Won Capstone Funding


Honors Categories

Social Sciences

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Other Anthropology | Social and Cultural Anthropology


Between 1973 and 1990, Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile implemented the systematic practice of forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in order to eradicate the imagined “communist cancer” (Wyndham and Read 2010: 31). A total of 3,227 deaths have been tallied; 1,465 of these were cases of detenidos-desaparecidos, or enforced disappearances (Garrido and Intriago 2012: 34). Scholars suggest that Chile’s transition to democracy will remain incomplete without first locating and identifying the desaparecidos (Aguilar 2002). Through methods of comparing postmortem skeletal analysis with antemortem data, forensic anthropologists carry out the important work that makes identifications possible.

This thesis evaluates the development of the field of forensic anthropology in Chile, taking into consideration certain peculiarities in such development that led to errors in identifying the dead. An analysis of these errors, the circumstances that led to them, and the resulting response in their aftermath, provides an important lesson for the improvement of the field as it moves forward and is applied in other global contexts. I take an anthropological approach to this case, and rely on comparison with the U.S. and several other international cases. As the field of forensic anthropology matures, ethnographic studies of scientists and their practices have begun to emerge. Additionally, there has been an increased reflexivity on the part of the forensic scientists themselves. Following these trends, I rely on personal interviews and reflections of key forensic practitioners in Chile. This thesis aims to join the ongoing discussion, and to raise awareness of the important role forensic anthropology plays in uncovering the truth, providing evidence of political crimes, revising historical memory and, most importantly, returning loved ones to their families in the hopes of giving them solace from their suffering.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.



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