Four-Field Forensic Archaeology

  • Derek CongramEmail author


Despite only about 40 years having passed since the first academic publications advocating the use of archaeological techniques and methodologies toward forensic investigation, forensic archaeology has evolved and taken many forms. Conventional archaeology – and physical anthropology, which, especially in the forensic context, is almost invariably linked – is presented, studied, and practiced differently in various countries and contexts. This, in association with the fact that archaeologists have been employed in much greater numbers in an international context (e.g., with the UN in the former Yugoslavia), has resulted in ambiguous practice and definition. This chapter will examine four different activities that are often referred to as “forensic archaeology” and will discuss examples of how, where, and by whom they have been practiced. The chapter will examine common elements among the activities as well as important distinctions. The four activities presented, though not mutually exclusive, are (I) domestic forensic archaeology, (II) international forensic archaeology, (III) repatriation-focused archaeology, and (IV) mass fatality archaeology.


Forensic archaeology Domestic forensic archaeology International forensic archaeology Repatriation-focused archaeology Mass fatality archaeology Criminal-legal investigation 


  1. Alvarez, J. E. (2004). Trying Hussein: Between hubris and hegemony. Journal of International Criminal Justice, 2, 319–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Armengou, M., & Belis, R. (2004). Las fosas del silencio. Barcelona: Random House.Google Scholar
  3. Associated Press. (2005). Guatemala halts recovery effort after mudslides. Available at: Accessed: 7 Jan 2013.
  4. Bass, W. M., & Birkby, W. H. (1978). Exhumation: The method could make the difference. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 47(7), 6–11.Google Scholar
  5. Black, C. (2013). Personal communication with forensic archaeologist and anthropologist, former volunteer with the Fundación de Antropología Forense de Guatemala.Google Scholar
  6. Cabo, L. L., & Dirkmaat, D. C. (2015). Forensic archaeology in the US. In W. J. Groen, N. Márquez-Grant, & R. C. Janaway (Eds.), Forensic archaeology; a global perspective (pp. 255–270). London: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  7. Congram, D. (2008). A clandestine burial in Costa Rica: Prospection and excavation. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 53(4), 793–796.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Congram, D. (2015). Canadian forensic archaeology: Ad mari usque ad mare, ad hoc. In W. J. Groen, N. Márquez-Grant, & R. C. Janaway (Eds.), Forensic archaeology; A global perspective (pp. 223–229). London: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  9. Congram, D., & Fernández, A. (2010). Uncovering trauma: The exhumation and repatriation of Spanish Civil War Dead. Anthropology Newsletter, 51(3), 23–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Crossland, Z. (2013). Evidential regimes of forensic archaeology. Annual Review of Anthropology, 42, 121–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dirkmaat, D. C., & Adovasio, J. M. (1997). The role of archaeology in the recovery and interpretation of human remains from an outdoor forensic setting. In W. D. Haglund & M. H. Sorg (Eds.), Forensic taphonomy. Boca Raton: CRC Press.Google Scholar
  12. Dirkmaat, D. C., Symes, S. A., & Cabo, L. L. (2010). Forensic archaeological recovery of the victims of the Continental connection flight 3407 crash in Clarence Center, New York (Vol. 16, p. 387). Proceedings of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, Annual Scientific Meeting, Seattle, WA.Google Scholar
  13. Dirkmaat, D. C., Cabo, L. L., Kenyhercz, M. W., Nesbitt, A. M., Kales, A. R., & Chapman, E. (2011). Improving evidence and victim recovery protocols at the mass fatality incident. Proceedings of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, Annual Scientific Meeting, Chicago, IL, 17,300. Google Scholar
  14. Dirkmaat, D. C., Adovasio, J. M., & Cabo, L. L. (2013). The two faces of forensic archaeology. Paper presented at the 78th Annual Meeting of the Society of American Archaeology, Honolulu, HI.Google Scholar
  15. El País. (2010). Cronología: Garzón y la causa por los crímenes del franquismo. Available at: Accessed 7 Jan 2013.
  16. Emanovsky, P. D., & Belcher, W. R. (2012). The many hats of a recovery leader: Perspectives on planning and executing worldwide forensic investigations and recoveries at the JPAC Central Identification Laboratory. In D. C. Dirkmaat (Ed.), A Companion to Forensic Anthropology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Etxeberría Gabilondo, F. (2012). Exhumaciones contemporáneas en Espana: las fosas comunes de la Guerra Civil. Boletin Galego de Medicina Legal e Forense, 18, 13–28.Google Scholar
  18. Ferrándiz, F. (2008). Cries and whispers: Exhuming and narrating defeat in Spain today. Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, 9(2), 177–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ferrándiz, F. (2013). Exhuming the defeated: Civil war mass graves in 21st-century Spain. American Ethnologist, 40(1), 38–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gould, R. A. (2007). Disaster archaeology. Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press.Google Scholar
  21. Groen, W. J., Márquez-Grant, N., & Janaway, R. C. (2015). Forensic archaeology; a global perspective. London: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  22. Haglund, W. D. (2002). Recent mass graves, an introduction. In W. D. Haglund & M. H. Sorg (Eds.), Advances in forensic taphonomy: Method, theory, and archaeological perspectives (pp. 243–262). Boca Raton: CRC Press.Google Scholar
  23. Hunter, J. R., Brickley, M. B., Bougeouis, J., Bouts, W., Bourguignon, L., Hubrecht, F., de Winne, J., Van Haaster, H., Hakbijl, T., de Jong, H., Smits, L., Van Wijngaarden, L. H., & Luschen, M. (2001). Forensic archaeology, forensic anthropology and human rights in Europe. Science and Justice, 41(3), 173–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Japan Times. (2010). NPO accused over grave robbery. Available online at: Accessed 3 Jan 2013.
  25. Japan Times. (2011). War remains may contain Filipino bones. Available online at: Accessed: 3 Jan 2013.
  26. Jessee, E. (2012). Promoting reconciliation through the exhuming and identifying victims in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. CIGI Africa Initiative Discussion Paper, No. 4.Google Scholar
  27. Juliá, S. (1999). Víctimas de la guerra civil. Madrid: Temas de Hoy.Google Scholar
  28. Junquera, N. (2008). Cuatro historiadores y un forense. El País, Oct. 21. Available online at: Last accessed: 7 Jan 2013.
  29. Koff, C. (2004). The bone woman. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  30. Loe, L., & Brady, M. (2010). Remembering Fromelles. British Archaeology, (111). March/April 2010. Available online at:
  31. Márquez-Grant, N., Litherland, S., & Roberts, J. (2012). European perspectives and the role of the forensic archaeologist in the UK. In D. C. Dirkmaat (Ed.), A companion to forensic anthropology. Malden: Blackwell Publishing Ltd..Google Scholar
  32. Minozzi, S., Fornaciari, A., & Fornaciari, G. (2012). Commentary on: Nuzzolese, E., Borrini M. Forensic approach to an archaeological casework of “vampire” skeletal remains in Venice: Odontological and anthropological prospectus. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 57(3), 843–844.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Morse, D., Crusoe, D., & Smith, H. G. (1976). Forensic archaeology. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 21(2), 323–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Nuzolessi, E., & Borrini, M. (2011). Forensic approach to an archaeological casework of “vampire” skeletal remains in Venice: Odontological and anthropological prospectus. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 55(6), 1634–1637.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Peregil, F. (2013). La juez que grabó a Garzón. El País. 29 Sept. Available at: Last accessed: 7 Jan 2013.
  36. Pietruszka, A. (2015). Forensic archaeology underwater. In M. Groen, N. Márquez-Grant, & R. C. Janaway (Eds.), Forensic archaeology; a global perspective (pp. 453–461). London: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  37. Preston, P. (2012). The Spanish holocaust: Inquisition and extermination in twentieth-century Spain (1st American). New York: W.W. Norton & Co.Google Scholar
  38. Rosenblatt, A. (2012). Humanitarianism and human rights in the context of post-conflict forensic investigations (Vol. 18, p. 223). Proceedings of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, Annual Scientific Meeting, Atlanta, GA.Google Scholar
  39. Scott, D. D., & Connor, M. (2001). The role and future of archaeology in forensic science. Historical Archaeology, 35(1), 101–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sigler-Eisenberg, B. (1985). Forensic research: Expanding the concept of applied archaeology. American Antiquity, 50(3), 650–655.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Silva, E., & Macías, S. (2003). Las Fosas de Franco. Madrid: Temas de Hoy.Google Scholar
  42. Skinner, M., Alempijevic, D., & Djuric-Srejic, M. (2003). Guidelines for international forensic bio-archaeology monitors of mass grave exhumations. Forensic Science International, 134(2), 81–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Stover, E., & Peress, G. (1998). The graves; Srebrenica and Vukovar. New York: D.A.P.Google Scholar
  44. Stratton, S. U., & Beattie, O. B. (1999). Mass disasters: Comments and discussion regarding the Hinton train collision of 1986. In S. I. Fairgrieve (Ed.), Forensic osteological analysis (pp. 267–286). Springfield: Charles C. Thomas.Google Scholar
  45. Summers, J. (2010). Remembering Fromelles. London: CWGC Publishing.Google Scholar
  46. Trimble, M. K., & Malin-Boyce, S. (2011). CRM and the military: Cultural resource management. In T. F. King (Ed.), A companion to cultural resource management. Chichester: Blackwell Publishing.Google Scholar
  47. Ubelaker, D. H., Owsley, D. W., Houck, M. M., Craig, E., Grant, W., Woltanski, T., Frm, R., Sandness, K., & Peerwani, N. (1995). The role of forensic anthropology in the recovery and analysis of Branch Davidian Compound victims: Recovery procedures and characteristics of the victims. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 40(3), 335–340.Google Scholar
  48. University of Leicester. (online). The discovery of Richard III. Accessed 5 Feb 2018.
  49. Warnasch, S., Rainwater, C., Crowder, C. (2013, online). The application of archaeological methods to crime scenes and mass disasters in New York City. Abstracts of the 78th Annual Meeting, Society of American Archaeology. Honolulu.Google Scholar
  50. Wright, R., Hanson, I., & Sterenberg, J. (2005). The archaeology of mass graves. In J. R. Hunter & M. Cox (Eds.), Forensic archaeology: Advances in theory and practice (pp. 137–158). London: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Munk School of Global AffairsUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations