We discovered that a phased approach usually yields the best results. This involves starting with analysis of large-scale satellite data to locate potential burial areas — for example where soil has been recently disturbed. You then proceed with initial site investigations, looking at suspect areas to find out the soil type and other environmental data.
How to Find a Person's Grave: 11 Steps (with Pictures) - wikiHow
The last stage involves carrying out focused site searches and digging. But despite this knowledge, the current detection rate of cold cases is low — perhaps only one in cases are successful. As each case is unique, control studies using purpose-built clandestine graves are helping us further work out which detection techniques work best in which cases. In the UK, we currently use pigs as human analogues, although the US, Australia and, since January, the Netherlands, use donated human cadavers. The approach needed will change as a body decomposes see figure below — with the local soil type, burial style and the types of rock in the ground also being important variables.
A year-old body buried in a shallow grave in the moors may be relatively intact in wet peatland, whereas a recently buried body in dry sand will rapidly decay. Ground penetrating radar is best to locate bodies that have been wrapped in something wrapping provides a good reflective surface.
National Burial Index For England & Wales
In other cases, where the body is still decomposing, fluids such as blood from the cadaver can be detected by machines that measure electrical resistivity — how strongly a material opposes the flow of an electric current. In a recent study, we showed that conductivity in grave soil water rapidly increases up to two years after burial — data which we can use to estimate the time since death. Control studies can only go as far back in time as experiments last, so researchers have also been looking at real graves that are much older to assist with more ancient missing persons cases.
Graveyards and cemeteries are an obvious choice for this. These can be geophysically surveyed, most commonly with ground penetrating radar and electrical resistivity to look for bodies buried without a grave stone. These can be exhumed, both for research purposes and to confirm the identity of the remains. We did this recently when new church community halls were being built on old graveyards. Exhumation regulations differ across the world, but in the UK you are allowed to do this if burials are over years old.
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