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Santeria and Palo Mayombe: Skulls, Mercury, and Artifacts

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Abstract: 

Santeria and Palo Mayombe are syncretic religions created in the New World based upon African religious beliefs combined with Christianity. The main worship of Palo Mayombe involves religious receptacles that may contain earth, sticks, varied artifacts, and animal and human remains. Due to the use of human and nonhuman remains, discovery of these items often leads to involvement by the police due to a concern of homicide. We review in detail the medical examiner records of two of these ritualistic cases including the autopsy, anthropology, police, and investigators’ reports. For the human remains, careful consideration of the context in which the remains were recovered, their state of preservation, and the associated artifacts (e.g., beads and mercury) are important in determining the appropriate level of forensic significance. Anthropological examination with particular attention to taphonomic characteristics also may help determine the origin and forensic significance.
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Keywords: Palo Mayombe; Santeria; anthropology; cranium; forensic pathology; forensic science; mercury; skull

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner and Department of Forensic Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY 10016.

Publication date: November 1, 2009

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