Detecting buried human remains using near-surface geophysical instruments

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

Abstract

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.

References

  1. Bevan, B.W., 1991, The Search for Graves: Geophysics. 56, 1310-1319
  2. Davenport, G.C., 2001, Remote Sensing Applications in Forensic investigations: Historicl Archaeology, 35, 87-100
  3. Davis, J.L., Heginbottom, J.A., Anman, A.P., Daniels, R.S., Berdal, B.R, Bergan, T., Duncan, K.E., Lewin, P.K., Oxford, J.S., Roberts, N., Skehel, J.J., and Smith, C.R., 2000, Giound Penetrating Radar Surveys to Locate 1918 Spanish FluVictims in Permafrost: Journal of Forensic Sciences, 45, 68-76
  4. France, D.L., Griffin, T.J., Swanburg, J.G., Lindeman, J.W., Davenport, G.C., Trammell, V., Annhurst, C.T, Kondratieff, B., Nelson, A., Castellano, K., and D. Hopkins, D., 1992, A Multidisciplinaiy Approach to the Detecdon of Clandestine Graves: Journal of Forensic Sciences, 37,1445-1458
  5. Hammon III, W.S., McMechan, G.A., and Xiaoxian Zeng, 2000, Foiensic GPR: finite-difference simulations of responses from buried human remains: Joumal of Applied Geophysics. 45, 171-186
  6. McManamon, F.P., 1984, Discovering Sites Unseen: in SchiSer, M.B., (ed.), Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory: Academic Press, Inc
  7. Miller, P.S., 1996, Disturbances in the Soil: Finding Buhed Bodies and Other Evidence Using Ground Penetrating Radar Joumal of Forensic Sciences, 41,648-652
  8. Nobes, D.C., 2000, The Seaich for 'Yvonne': A Case Example of the Delineation of a Grave Using Near-Surface Geophysical Methods: Jounial of forensic Sciences, 45,715-721
  9. Owsley, D. W., 1995, Techniques for Locating Burials, with Emphasis on the Probe: Joumal of Forensic Sciences, 40, 735-740
  10. Thomas, D.G., 1999, Investigative Sub-Surface Search: The Pios and Cons of Some Instrumented Search Technologies Available to Police in Australia: Austratim Police Joumal, 53, 62-72
  11. Unterberger, R.R., 1992, Ground Penetrating Radar: Geological Survey of Fintand, Special Paper 16, 351-357