Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Mass grave simulation

The anthropological research facility at the University of Tennessee, more commonly known as the "Body Farm," is embarking on a new and ambitious project. For more than 30 years, researchers have been exposing individual donated human corpses to the elements to discern decomposition rates under various conditions and make it easier to solve crimes. Now they are burying multiple bodies in a single grave to make it easier to solve crimes against humanity. Led by anthropology professor Amy Mundorff, students dug 4 graves: the first contains the remains of 6 people, the second contains 3, the third contains a single body, and the fourth was refilled with dirt as a control for the experiment. For the next 3 years, UT scientists will monitor the burial sites from the sky, from the ground, through sampling, and in different light spectrums to determine whether and how they can be detected from afar. “Mass graves are the most profound example of evil, and you may not be able to get away with it much longer if we can make this work,” says Mundorff's colleague Michael Medler at Western Washington University, who helped conceive the project. The remote sensing technologies they refine – such as identifying subtle changes in satellite images – will allow investigators to locate clandestine graves around the world and to prosecute the killers. After the project wraps up, the University of Tennessee anthropologists will offer a seminar for international workers on excavating mass graves, which has previously only been demonstrated on animal remains. But the advances in the forensic science will hopefully go beyond discovering and examining the remains after the crime has been committed, and begin to undermine the confidence of the mass killers. “The most exciting part of the project is conceptually making it harder for people to feel like they can get away with these things, even decades later,” says Medler. “Because we will see it.


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