Evaluation of an optimized protocol for excavating (clandestine) graves

Over the years archaeologists have developed excavation and documentation techniques to study graves and human remains. Increasingly these methods are also applied by forensic archaeologists to investigate clandestine graves.

Careful examination of a clandestine grave may yield important information on how and when an individual was buried. In addition a detailed documentation of the human remains and associated finds may contribute important knowledge relating to the cause of death, taphonomical and postdepositional processes. The investigative process starts with locating the grave and documenting associated finds at the surface. Next an excavation plan is made, paying attention to the documentation of a multitude of features related to the digging of the burial

pit, the deposition of the body, the filling of the burial pit, possible later interventions and taphonomical processes. During the excavation appropriate samples are taken for various analyses, including entomology, pollen, botany and soil chemistry. Since sample collection can be easily compromised and itself interferes with the documentation of the investigation it is necessary to carefully plan all elements of the investigative process. Although researchers have focused on the best archaeological methods, little attention has been paid to the inclusion of 3D documentation. Previous Smart Solutions Semester research groups have created an optimized protocol that integrates evidence-based archaeological methods, relevant sampling strategies and a selection of documentation methods. An important aspect in this protocol is the focus on preserving the ‘chain of evidence’ and a smart recording of all findings, samples and laboratory results in a robust information system. Ideally this protocol is flexible in a sense that it allows for the inclusion of methods and techniques on the basis of either local availability or the specific requirements of the case under investigation.

The aim of this Smart Solutions Project would be to further test the usability and sustainability of the developed protocol on the basis experimental excavation of a series of mock burials.

Cluster: Stories of the Past

This project contributes to the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):