Forensic Friday: Forensic Archaeology
|Photo from Smithsonian Institute|
The internet is littered with stories of people stumbling over clandestine burial sites. Farmers unearth skeletons when they plow up long fallow land. Home owners discover bodies when they renovate centuries-old houses. Hikers find victims buried deep in the woods. When that happens the police contact Forensic archaeologists for assistance in identifying the victim.
Forensic archaeology is the application of archaeological digging techniques to crime scenes. A knowledge of osteology (the study of bones) is used to determine age, gender and height of the deceased. The work is performed with great precision so that no damage is done to the skeleton or possible evidence. During the excavation, the archaeologist will record and preserve anything found at each stage and depth of soil.
|Photo from Crimemuseum.org|
A variety of methods are used to date items found at the site. Carbon dating is one of the methods used to indicate whether the grave is ancient or recent. In addition, a scientist’s understanding of how materials degrade or decompose over time when buried in certain soil can be helpful in dating a site. In recent years, Forensic archaeologists have also be involved in the excavation of mass graves such as those found in Europe since WWII. Their work has been invaluable at bringing closure to families who have grieved for years wondering what happened to their loved one.