Alexa HagertyApr 2, 2023
Still Life with Bones
Genocide, Forensics, and What Remains
In Still Life with Bones: Genocide, Forensics, and What Remains (Crown, 2023), anthropologist Alexa Hagerty learns to see the dead body with a forensic eye. She examines bones for marks of torture and fatal wounds—hands bound by rope, machete cuts—and also for signs of identity: how life shapes us down to the bone. A weaver is recognized from the tiny bones of the toes, molded by kneeling before a loom; a girl is identified alongside her pet dog. In the tenderness of understanding these bones, forensics not only offers proof of mass atrocity but also tells the story of each life lost.
Working with forensic teams at mass grave sites and in labs, Hagerty discovers how bones bear witness to crimes against humanity and how exhumation can bring families meaning after unimaginable loss. She also comes to see how cutting-edge science can act as ritual—a way of caring for the dead with symbolic force that can repair societies torn apart by violence.
Weaving together powerful stories about investigative breakthroughs, histories of violence and resistance, and her own forensic coming-of-age, Hagerty crafts a moving portrait of the living and the dead.
Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University.