Using GIS to Re-Associate Commingled Skeletal Remains

Author(s): Sarah Voeller; Ann Ross

Year: 2015


One problem forensic archaeologists have encountered during the investigation of mass graves is the commingling of human remains. Commingling can consist of disarticulated body parts, and can be more complex when remains are skeletonized or fragmented. Methods exist to address this problem; however, some are costly while others are time consuming. It has been shown that mapping the three dimensional location of body parts in a mass grave is useful for re-association based on proximity of the closest missing element. This study investigates a way to re-associate commingled skeletal remains in a controlled context using readily available GIS technology that is low cost and time efficient. A mass grave with skeletal commingling was re-created using domestic pigs. The provenience of skeletal elements was mapped with a total station. Spatial relationships were then analyzed using both ArcGIS and GRASS. Tools within these programs allow for statistical calculations such as spatial autocorrelation which can be used to identify groupings of associated small bones such as phalanges or fetal remains, as well as simple proximity queries for the closest missing element. The capabilities of GIS for analyzing dispersed remains as well as a detailed replicable methodology will be presented.

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Using GIS to Re-Associate Commingled Skeletal Remains. Sarah Voeller, Ann Ross. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 397612)

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