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Forensic Investigation of a Mass Grave Complex, Muthanna Province, Iraq

Author(s): Michael K. Trimble ; Caroline Steele ; Susan Malin-Boyce ; David Z. C. Hines

Year: 2005

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Executive Summary

1. Muthanna0002 was the name used to designate a mass grave complex southeast of the town of As Samawah, Muthanna Province, Iraq. The Muthanna0002 graves were initially discovered around 1998 by Bedouin herders. Coalition forces were first informed of the site’s existence in May 2003, at which time the I MEF Mass Gravesite Assessment Team, Task Force – Justice, under Major Alvin Schmidt, conducted a Sensitive Site Exploitation (SSE). The team categorized the alleged mass grave as Level 3 (probable crimes against humanity – over 1000 remains) and recommended it for future forensic exploitation. Subsequently a number of visits were made by Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) forensic assessment teams during which test excavations confirmed the existence of mass graves.

2. On 9 April 2005 the Regime Crimes Liaison Office Iraq Mass Graves Team (RCLO/IMGT) began work at Muthanna0002. Site survey and exploration using heavy equipment identified ten graves. One grave, designated MUT0002, was fully excavated. The excavations were completed and the trench backfilled on 27 April. One hundred and fourteen (114) individuals were exhumed from MUT0002 over a nine day period. Forensic analyses of the remains excavated at MUT0002 were completed 2 June 2005.

3. Fifty (50) documents of various types were recovered with the remains. All were processed by Documents Technicians at the RCLO/IMGT Forensic Analysis Facility (FAF). Most of the documents were Iraqi currency, but other documents included printed material, standard forms, and identification cards. Sixteen (16) identification cards were recovered, six of which were in good condition. A hand written document of several pages was also recovered and appeared to be a potential source of useful information. Digital images were captured of the documents and high resolution computerized copies were sent to RCLO translators. The original documents were packaged for curation by means of sleeving, encapsulation, or bagging in re-sealable polypropylene bags. They were placed in secured storage.

4. Articles of clothing from MUT0002 were used to identify ethnicity, age, and sex. Ninety-two (92) of the 113 individuals examined contained at least one article of traditional Kurdish clothing and/or cultural object. Twenty-one (21) individuals had Western-style, non-ethnic specific, and/or handmade clothing. Based upon sex appropriate clothing style and size, the clothing recovered was associated with 73 females, 26 males and 14 for which sex was indeterminate. Among the females, clothing suggested 28 adults, 12 subadults (13-17 years of age), 28 children (3-7 years of age), and five infants (0-2 years of age). Among the males, clothing suggested four adults, 13 subadults, 27 children and one infant. There were five children of indeterminate sex and nine infants of indeterminate sex. Personal effects such as jewelry, toiletries, accessories, housewares, money, toys, and organic materials were recovered with 93 individuals. Traditional Kurdish items included seven Milwankai Mekhak necklaces, 14 Turakai Kil cosmetic kits and 14 Hat-Hatoke sachets. Clothing and cultural objects collectively suggest that the MUT0002 individuals were of Kurdish ethnicity.

5. Ballistic artifacts and restraints were recovered with males and females of all ages. Projectiles were recovered with 71 individuals and cartridge casings with 37. Seventy-nine (79) projectiles and four (4) cartridge casings were recovered loose within clothing and amongst skeletal remains. Eighty-three (83) projectiles and 28 cartridge casings were embedded in or adhered to articles of clothing or personal items. In addition to ballistic evidence recorded in the Cultural Objects Laboratory, 93 cartridge casing and 48 projectiles were collected from within the grave. Projectile holes were observed in all articles of clothing, but were most common in clothes that covered the torso, e.g., shirts, dresses and jackets. Restraints included pieces of rope, possibly used to bind wrists together (27 individuals), and strips of cloth possibly used as blindfolds (16 individuals).

6. Spatial analysis of the ballistic artifacts collected from the surface of the graves complex revealed a pattern consistent with that of shooters firing into each grave trench lengthwise from one end. In the case of MUT0002, the ballistic evidence indicates the shooters were located at the southern end. Ballistic artifacts recovered from within the MUT0002 trench also conform to this spatial pattern. The higher ratio of projectiles to cartridge casings recovered from within the grave, in comparison with the surface collection, also identifies the grave trench as the execution site. Spatial patterning of the human remains from MUT0002 indicates that the victims entered the grave alive and were killed in a single event. The adult and juvenile males were grouped together and probably entered the trench first. The distribution of gunshot wounds supports the thesis that the shooters were located to the south and perhaps slightly east of the trench’s longitudinal axis.

7. Forensic anthropological analyses were conducted at the RCLO/IMGT FAF. Analysis was completed on skeletal remains of the 114 individuals recovered from MUT0002. These remains represented the entire contents of the grave. Osteological analyses revealed that the MUT0002 collection consisted principally of subadults (n=85 individuals <18 years). The average age across the entire collection was 12 years, although the most frequently represented age was five years. Sex determinations were undertaken for 31 individuals. Two of these individuals were in their late adolescence while the rest were fully developed adults. The adult component demonstrated a demographic profile dominated by women (n=28). Two individuals were identified as male while the sex of a third adult individual could not be determined.

8. A pathologist examined all the individuals recovered at MUT0002. Of the 114 individuals examined, 109 had perimortem trauma to the cranial or post-cranial remains. Projectile trauma consistent with gunshot injuries were recorded in 642 instances. MUT0002 individuals tended to exhibit multiple cranial and postcranial injuries inflicted by high velocity projectiles. The majority of these injuries were to the torso. The 114 individuals analyzed exhibited approximately six projectile injuries each. It is likely that the total number of injuries reported is a minimum figure since analysis focused on skeletal material.

9. Material from Muthanna0002/MUT0002 discussed above was documented using a variety of methods designed to ensure the security and integrity of all evidence. Project documentation recorded descriptive information and analyses, and tracked the movement of evidence. Databases were maintained for encrypted digital images and for archiving data from forms. The culmination of all documentation created during the analysis was organized in the individual case files. These files contain all field documentation, including written evidence pertaining to chain of custody, and transfer of custody from field to laboratory. Internal tracking was maintained in the laboratory to monitor the movement of evidence in the FAF. All laboratory documents were compiled in the case file by subject matter. The sections include archaeology, anthropology, cultural objects, recovered documents, radiography, pathology, and digital imaging. Case files were reviewed by personnel for accuracy throughout the process. File security was paramount. As the final step in this process, the original case files were submitted to the RCLO Headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq.

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Cite this Record

Forensic Investigation of a Mass Grave Complex, Muthanna Province, Iraq. Michael K. Trimble, Caroline Steele, Susan Malin-Boyce, David Z. C. Hines. Mass Graves Investigations ,Vol. 2. St. Louis, Missouri: US Army Corps of Engineers Mandatory Center of Expertise for the Curation and Management of Archaeological Collections, St. Louis District. 2005 ( tDAR id: 392871) ; doi:10.6067/XCV88P61GK


Temporal Coverage

Calendar Date: 1968 to 2003 (Presidency of Saddam Hussein)

Spatial Coverage

min long: 44.853; min lat: 30.69 ; max long: 45.122; max lat: 30.886 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): US Army Corps of Engineers Mandatory Center of Expertise for the Curation and Management of Archaeological Collections, St. Louis District

Prepared By(s): US Army Corps of Engineers Mandatory Center of Expertise for the Curation and Management of Archaeological Collections, St. Louis District

Submitted To(s): Regime Crimes Liaison Office, United States Embassy, Baghdad, Iraq

Record Identifiers

Contract No.(s): W912ER-04-D-0007, Task Order 2

File Information

  Name Size Creation Date Date Uploaded Access
02_Muthanna.pdf 29.98mb May 17, 2011 May 12, 2014 12:17:50 PM Confidential

Accessing Restricted Files

At least one of the files for this resource is restricted from public view. For more information regarding access to these files, please reference the contact information below

Contact(s): US Army Corps of Engineers Mandatory Center of Expertise for the Curation and Management of Archaeological Collections, St. Louis District

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America