Interpersonal violence in colonial era in Papua, Indonesia: A case study of trauma patterns of a Biak individual

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In many world regions, conflict resulting from power struggles can lead to interpersonal violence. In the recent colonial past, tribes in Papua and Papua New Guinea engaged in war and raiding that resulted in interpersonal violence, abduction, slavery, and casualties. This case study focuses on the analysis of a colonial period individual from Biak Island, Papua, Indonesia, using a biocultural approach. Only the cranium was available for analysis. Standard osteological methods were used to determine that the individual was likely a young to mid-aged (26- to 42-year-old) adult female. Skeletal lesion type and patterning were observed macroscopically with digital photography and a newly developed ultraviolet light photography technique. Multiple sharp force trauma injuries were identified on the frontal, temporal, and occipital bones of the cranium. Interpreting the pattern of trauma within the context of the colonial period in Papua, it is suggested that this female individual may have been murdered, possibly as a slave taken during tribal warfare. This report is a significant resource for future bioarchaeological studies in Papua as it provides one of the only accounts of skeletal trauma during the colonial period in the region.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1088-1094
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Osteoarchaeology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2023


  • Biak
  • Papua
  • colonial Indonesia
  • interpersonal violence
  • knife-cut wound
  • parang (machete-like implement)
  • sharp-force trauma


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