To Dig or Not to Dig? A Case Study of Suspected Remains Buried under Concrete

Author(s): Paul Martin; Blair Tormey

Year: 2016


Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) results can factor into the decision to excavate in the search for a clandestine grave. Most published research and case studies focus on the successful location and recovery of human remains, while relatively few examples have been published showing negative results. This presentation highlights a cold case where the data interpretation led to excavation, but did not produce the target sought.

Information from a confidential informant led investigators to question if patched concrete areas in the floor of an abandoned warehouse concealed the remains of a missing person. After a cadaver dog search resulted in no trained final response, investigators requested that a GPR survey be conducted. Using a 250 MHz GPR antenna configured on a cart, a potential target was identified during the survey. After post-processing the data, a target area was identified beneath the concrete, with a size, shape, and radar velocities consistent with a potential human burial.

The decision was made to excavate and, unfortunately, failed to yield remains. Using this example, we examine the technical, ethical, and moral decisions that must be carefully considered when utilizing GPR in the search for clandestine graves.

Cite this Record

To Dig or Not to Dig? A Case Study of Suspected Remains Buried under Concrete. Paul Martin, Blair Tormey. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 402970)

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