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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Forensic Archaeology?
Forensic Archaeology is the application of archaeological methods to forensic – crime scene – work.

How does Forensic Archaeology work within the criminal justice system?
The Forensic Archaeologist combines knowledge of osteology and human remains with archaeological techniques to help recover finds and provide vital evidence for the investigative team.  With osteology background, the Forensic Archaeologist can provide field guidance on the age, sex, and other physical characteristics of the remains, while as an experienced excavator, the Forensic Archaeologist examines the scene so that artifacts will be accurately located and recovered.

Is Forensic Archaeology widely accepted?
Forensic Archaeology has been around for about 10 years, so it is relatively new to both the discipline, as well as to the criminal justice system. On the other hand, it has become well established in Great Britain and is found in more and more locations in the United States. For example, forensic archaeology training is being offered to law enforcement in Oklahoma and the Riverside County (California) Sheriff’s Department has a Forensic Archaeology Department. The Federal Bureau of Investigation also includes archaeology specialists in their ERTs.

What can Forensic Archaeologists do that my team can’t do?
Like any specialist we work for and with your team, providing expertise that your office may not have. Your office probably has relatively few occasions to need to grid, excavate, screen, and plot remains – yet as archaeologists this is something we do every day. We have the training, tools, and equipment to do the job. And this saves your office time and funds – while ensuring that the chain of evidence is maintained intact. Why compromise the evidence by using improper equipment? And why waste the time of your crime scene investigators when a Forensic Archaeologist has the training to do the job?

Chicora's Program in Forensic Archaeology

Search for Unlocated Crime Scenes – organization of search teams, training of volunteers, systematic and comprehensive search techniques, and collection or flagging of physical evidence.

Identification of Grave Locations – using a range of pedestrian and geophysical techniques, as well as trenching or excavation.

Scene Assessments – some locations and recoveries require special skills, yet there is always a need to ensure that the maximum amount of information is extracted. We are familiar with difficult situations, such as coastal marshes, deep trenches, and wells. 

Scene Documentation and Mapping – the excavation of an archaeological site or the investigation of a scene destroys both. Documentation of the scene is a critical first step before investigation and Chicora is capable of using a wide range of equipment to ensure that the scene is thoroughly recorded.

Excavation and Recovery – this process involves much more than simply placing the various elements in a bag. What actually happened at the scene? What tools were used to dig the grave? Has the grave been disturbed? What is in the grave fill? Are there samples that should be collected for analysis by other experts (pollen, insects, or even tool marks)? Using standard archaeological techniques all of these questions can be addressed.

Scene Reconstruction – using traditional archaeological methods, forensic archaeologists can reconstruct the activities at more recent crime scenes. Looking at both the artifacts and their contexts the evidence may provide significant clues to help you arrive at justice.

Documentation and Reporting – to ensure that the chain of evidence is intact at a crime scene all materials must be documented – just as on an archaeological site. Chicora does this routinely. We can als0 provide site maps and other graphics for interpretation and courtroom use.

Ability to Work with Other Experts – Chicora’s Forensic Archaeologists have a basic knowledge and ability to work with Forensic Anthropologists, Medical Examiners, Forensic Entomologists, and Arson Investigators.

Examination of Cemeteries – this may include examination of cemetery remains, assistance in interpreting disinterred remains, exploration and plotting of identifiable burial locations, identification of cemetery boundaries, and identification of coffin materials and hardware that may be associated with remains.

Chicora's Experience in Forensic Archaeology

Cemetery Studies

  • Establishing the boundaries on approximately 50 cemeteries for regulatory compliance in South Carolina and North Carolina.

  • Identifying cemetery boundaries for two Beaufort County, SC circuit court cases.

  • Excavating and identifying the extent of damage done to a burial at a public cemetery for a civil case in York County, South Carolina.

Determining the Authenticity of Survey Marker

Using forensic archaeological tools to determine the authenticity of an early 20th century survey marker on a South Carolina sea island.

Burial Removals

  • Excavation of burial remains found eroding from the marsh edge in Berkeley County, South Carolina during low tide.

  • Routine excavation of human remains in Charleston and Beaufort counties, South Carolina.

  • Excavation of clandestine grave for SC Law enforcement agency.

Identification and Study of Vault Remains
Detailed investigation of vault construction and disposition of human remains in Albany, Georgia (Riverside Cemetery) and Savannah, Georgia (Colonial Cemetery).

Identification of Coffin Hardware and Remains

  • Examination of coffin remains from Charleston and Beaufort counties, South Carolina for Forensic Anthropologist.

  • Examination of coffin remains from Richland County, South Carolina for Coroner’s Office.

Sources of Additional Information

A simple internet search will return a variety of hits, but perhaps the most thorough and complete bibliography of archaeological forensic techniques related to crime scene interpretation is that prepared by FBI Special Agent Michael J. Hochrein. It is available as a pdf download from the Mercyherst Forensic Anthropology website.

Another essential source is the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. There are currently only 62 Board Certified Forensic Anthropologists (called ABFA Diplomates). There is no certification program at present for forensic archaeology (although there is a Register of Professional Archaeologists).

If you are wondering about qualifications, the Department of Justice has produced a report, Education and Training in Forensic Science: A Guide for Forensic Science Laboratories, Educational Institutes, and Students. It can be obtained here as a pdf.

A new website is the Forensic Science Technician. This provides a seemingly complete list of schools offering forensic science training and degrees, as well as a blog that contains much additional interesting -- and useful -- information. Another website for those interested in a criminal justice education is Criminal Justice Programs. This site will provide information on academic programs in your state.

Chicora has several programs in Forensic Work. PDF summaries are available here: Investigating Cemetery Related Crimes, and Forensic Archaeology and Time Since Death.

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