Detecting buried human remains using near-surface geophysical instruments

  • Powell Kathryn (Department of Anatomical Sciences University of Adelaide)
  • Published : 2004.02.01


To improve the recovery rate of unlocated buried human remains in forensic investigations, there is scope to evaluate and develop techniques that are applicable to the Australian environment. I established controlled gravesites (comprising shallow buried kangaroos, pigs, and human cadavers) in South Australia, to allow the methodical testing of remote sensing equipment for the purpose of grave detection in forensic investigations. Eight-month-old pig graves are shown to provide more distinct identifying results using ground-penetrating radar when compared to four-year-old kangaroo graves. Two further aspects of this research are presented: information (obtained from a survey) relating to the police use of geophysical instruments for locating buried human remains, and the use of electrical resistivity for locating human remains buried in a coffin. The survey of Australian police jurisdictions, covering the period 1995-2000, showed that police searches for unlocated bodies have not successfully located human remains using any geophysical instruments (such as ground-penetrating radar, magnetometers, or electrical resistivity). Lower resistivity readings were found coincident with the 150-year-old single historical burial in a heavily excavated field, in a situation where its exact location was previously unknown.


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