Thesis

Identifying autopsy and dissection on human skeletal remains: a case study from Point San Jose (Fort Mason), Golden Gate National Recreation Area

The identification of autopsy and dissection on human skeletal remains is challenged by a lack of formal diagnostic criteria for distinguishing between various anatomization activities. The Point San Jose assemblage consists of commingled, fragmentary human skeletal remains dating to the late-nineteenth century. Cut and saw marks observed on the bones suggest that these individuals were subjected to autopsy or dissection. This thesis aims to identify the activities that contributed to the formation of the Point San Jose assemblage and uses this site as a case study to explore the challenges for the identification of autopsy and dissection on human skeletal remains. The interpretation of the Point San Jose assemblage was approached through a review of the bioarchaeology literature and the formation of diagnostic criteria for the identification of various anatomization activities. The cut marks on the Point San Jose assemblage were recorded using the zonation method of Knüsel and Outram (2004). The evidence indicates dissection as the best explanation for the cut marks observed on the Point San Jose assemblage. Statistical analyses reveal that the cut mark data from Point San Jose is most similar to the data from Holden Chapel. These results suggest that the Point San Jose assemblage represents a “cleanup” event of unwanted or leftover skeletal elements following dissection and specimen preparation. This thesis makes a tentative argument for structural violence in the formation of the Point San Jose skeletal assemblage based on the higher representation of Asian and Hispanic ancestries, which may suggest the targeting of marginalized populations for dissection.

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