Introduction to Forensic Archaeology

Osteology and Archeology
Forensic Archeology

When most of us think of the word archeology we automatically assume prehistoric finds or “old bones”. Forensic Archeology is a relatively new study and predominately deals with crime scene grave sites or “new bones”.

Forensic Archeology is a method of using the scientific study of bones (Osteology) with the techniques of archeology. The study of bones produces facts on physical characteristics, age and sex whereas archeology provides facts on location, tools used for the dig and preservation. This process provides important evidence on the time and circumstances that could surround such a grave site and the means of the death.

Crime scene investigators use Forensic Archeology to excavate grave sites, preserve the finds and reconstruct events leading up to the burial. The goal of Forensic Archeology is to recover buried remains, personal effects, weapons, stolen property and any potential evidence in a crime. Some of a Forensic Archeologist’s tools of the trade for recovery include aerial photography, geophysical prospective, satellite imagery and surveying. The forensic side of this discipline involves taking inventory of the skeletal remains (including dental), collecting data on bone positioning and grave site area and Taphonomy (the discipline of studying decaying organisms and the transition of remains over time).

Information provided by Forensic Archeology to a crime scene investigator could be beneficial to:
Support or exclude eyewitness testimony
Obtain a connection between the victim and the perpetrator
Determine how the remains arrived at the burial site
Determine time of death/burial
Provide data on the natural occurrences since burial
Exclude evidence not linked to the crime scene
Testify at court

Evidence recovered by a Forensic Archeology may include artifacts, insects, plants, soil samples, human remains, footprints, tool marks, grave shafts and fluid samples. Artifacts found at a crime scene could include jewelry, weapons, coins, clothing and trash.

While most Forensic Archeology professions are in teaching, the use of Forensic Archeology is becoming more prevalent in the solving of crimes. One point of interest would be that the UN has used Forensic Archeology in the excavation of crime and genocide graves throughout Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Iraq.

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