Goals & Objectives of the VCL

The primary goal of the VCL and TRF is to provide the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Five College student population with a comprehensive and collaborative intellectual space in which to pursue original research on issues of violence in both its biological and cultural manifestations. The study of violence requires researchers to understand the transformative powers of its use in social relations and cultural practices. To accomplish this, researchers must understand that they are not simply studying a punctuated event but rather a transformative process within a historical trajectory.

The experience students gain working in the VCL is strengthened by coursework offered in the anthropology department, which includes a strong grounding in archaeology and biological, cultural, and linguistic anthropology. Research on violence and conflict span anthropological subfields, and serve to bridge the various disciplines within the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences. This interdisciplinary approach to the study of violence and conflict allows us, as anthropologists who engage violence in the field, to better address our core methodological concern: How do we understand violence?

Learning Goals and Examples of Research Projects for Students

  • Present students with an introduction to the diversity of taphonomic processes, with a particular focus on (1) experimental approaches to understanding taphonomy and (2) utility of taphonomic data as a source of biological and environmental information.

  • Provide students with an understanding of interpersonal and institutional forms of violence as seen from an anthropological perspective.

  • Explore the expansive timeframe and culturally comparative orientation that an interdisciplinary approach to the study of violence can provide.

  • Apply contemporary archaeological and bioarchaeological techniques in the proper identification, documentation and collection of an archeological site and any outdoor forensic scene, including surface scatters and buried bodies.

  • Identify specific bone and side of complete and fragmentary human skeletal remains.

  • Determine chronological age, sex, stature, ancestry and pathology of human remains.

  • Identify modification of bones due to various taphonomic agents, including decomposition, heat alteration, water transport and burial factors.

  • Differentiate antemortem versus perimortem versus postmortem skeletal trauma, as well as provide biomechanical interpretations for traumatic forces.

  • Apply proper and appropriate statistical analytical techniques to the analysis and interpretation of human skeletal remains.

  • Understand the implications of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

  • Understand rules of evidence and the basics of the American criminal justice system.

  • Critically evaluate the significance of in situ physical evidence at a variety of crime scenes.

  • Explore the intersection between structures of violence and the social conditions of policy formation.

  • Critically evaluate literary sources for valid methodologies, appropriate results and applicability to topic under discussion.

  • Conduct research and investigation of human remains under the strictest of ethical guidelines currently in place in the disciplines of general science, forensic science and forensic anthropology.