Archaeological Dialogues


Buried lives

Forensic Archaeology and the disappeared in Argentina1

Zoë Crossland


This paper writes a history of the forensic excavations in Argentina of the remains of ‘the disappeared’; people who were abducted and murdered under the military governments of the 1970s and early 1980s. The physical remains of these people were, and still are, located at a nexus of desires and attempts to reconstruct both individual and national collective memory, through creating and sustaining the individual and collective identities of the disappeared. As such the human remains have become a vigorously contested site for different and irreconcilable constructions. This paper considers the ambiguity of human remains; the tensions between humans as bodies and as people, the difficult issue of human embodiment after death, and the incompatible narratives that arise from these ambiguities. A textual analysis of the narratives created around the excavations of the disappeared in the Argentinian and English speaking media is used to illustrate the ways in which archaeological narratives about the dead are used in the creation of conflicting societal and personal constructions of the human body in Argentina, and the effect that this has had on the ways the disappeared are remembered.


  • Argentina;
  • forensic archaeology;
  • memory;
  • embodiment;
  • ‘the disappeared’


1 A version of this paper, translated into Spanish by Marcela Malmierca of the Institute of Anthropological Science, University of Buenos Aires, is available, on request, from the author.