Forensic Archaeology has been a subject which has become of current interest in the last 2 year in its role in criminal investigation in the UK. It was in the case of the Stephen Jennings murder in 1982 in West Yorkshire, a case that the potential of the archaeologists was seen as an assistance to a chief investigator in investigating a crime or murder. This realisation of potential has lead to a rush of interest in the subject on both the part of archaeologists and more so of some police forces.

Murder is the first point of contact that is presumed as the primary interest that a police force would be interested in, although there are other areas that can be of mutual interest. Archaeology in the manner of the subject has a method or approach that is similar to police work in the collection of evidence. Scenes of crime officers are the responsible body for the police in the collection of evidence from a scenes of a crime.

If we take a simple example: be it a crime scenes or a archaeological site both archaeologist and scenes of crime officer are primarily interested in collecting evidence to inform them of what has happened in a past time. The question is, can archaeologist assist in a constructive way in law enforcement, or are the costs too much or unnecessary in reference to crime scenes investigation?

As I have said, primarily archaeologists can offer more to the police in the course of a murder inquiry. However, and more importantly, archaeology may have more to give forensic work in general. This may be more important to the police than the obvious.

People such as John Hunter at Bradford University have given thought to the subject and the way in which police authorities may want to look at the role of archaeology in forensics. John Hunter first did this during further investigations into the moors murders and wrote a letter to the Times newspaper suggesting that archaeology and its specific methods could usefully be employed in the search for the remaining body on the moors, and was duly asked to help police with investigations, with a degree of success. Again this has lead to scenes of crime officers and senior police officers who might head a murder investigation been taught about the benefits archaeology can bring. Still archaeology is in its early stages as a potential forensic aid to the police. On the other hand the use of archaeology and physical anthropology has a prominent place in crime investigation in the United States and Canada, with agencies in both countries widely accepting its benefits.

Archaeology is taught as a standard to both Scenes of Crime officers and federal agency staff. This may be due to the variation in crime rates. The USA has some 20,000 (J.R. Hunter) murders on average, compared to 450 murders seen in the British Isles. A large number of these murder victims in the USA and Canada are buried, unlike here in the UK. This has forced the use of archaeologists as well as anthropologists as a part of the normal forensic support to Law enforcement agencies, and consequently the amount of research into the area is larger. The FBI has had a big place in the development at Quanico Forensic Research Laboratories.

What Are The Possibilities?

Archaeologist "spend a great deal of time examining terrain for recognisable clues before picking up trowel, soil brushes and spoons to uncover what might be under the surface" whereas the police may only have this opportunity infrequently. Archaeology is an investigation of the past, and requires planning and thought before heavy handedly jumping in with both feet. It is a responsibility of archaeologists to record accurately their findings and to use the methods available to them to do this. Before a site is even considered for digging, preparation is undertaken in separate phases.

Identifying the site

  • Survey
  • Aerial
  • Geophysics
  • Magnetometry
  • Field Walking


    These primary phases allow an archaeologist to identify an area of interest before moving to the expensive stage of starting excavation. These are non-destructive examinations. From this valuable information archaeologists can move to the next phases:

    Recovery Of Evidence

  • Excavation
  • Recording Finds
  • Photography
  • Drawings
  • Video
  • Mapping
  • Written


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