Message #126:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: Forensic Archaeology - Probing for Human Remains
Date: Thu, 02 May 96 15:41:00 MST
Encoding: 179 TEXT


James -
Please excuse me for not replying sooner.

The text you forwarded mentioned several types of 'evidence' including: 
blindfolds and human remains; bodies with signs of violence; bodies of 
soldiers and  bodies of women killed in their nightgowns; bodies with severe 
head injuries (blunt instrument injuries with no signs of victim 
self-defense); mounds of dirt with human remains protruding.  Ivestigators 
are reported to have performed the following types of investigations: 4,500 
autopsy reports with color photos and detailed descriptions of traumas; 
photographs of mounds of dirt and human remains (with remains tagged with 
yellow markers); "sniffing for death" using a metal rod inserted into the 
ground, pulled out and sniffed; obsevations recorded via tape recorder.  It 
was reported that there would be no major excavations until May.

All this seems fairly standard.  With the exigencies of the field, conflict, 
lack of laboratory space, multiple bodies, etc etc, I am sure investigators 
return to highly expedient methods of investigation.  The art of sniffing 
for death is not a 'recognized modern forensic technique,' per se, but sense 
of smell does play an important role in any investigation.  What forensic 
archaeologist would ignore the use of tactile and olfactory senses during an 

I have had interesting smell experiences as an archaeologist.  Here in the 
Southwest, during archaeological excavation, one often can smell the 
difference between an anthropogenic soil level and a culturally sterile soil 
level--cross to one from the other in the stratigraphic column while 
excavating and ones nose sends and alert before the hand holding the trowel 
feels the textural difference between the two soils! I once flew 
interdiction missions against site vandals. On the way back from a mission, 
we flew our helicopter over a train carrying cars full of sawdust from a 
mill.  As we flew over the train, I was surprised to note that we could 
smell the fresh sawdust from 3000 ft above the train, all while traveling at 
a rather brisk air speed.

The nose can be very sensitive, and with training, methodical use of sense 
of smell becomes quite important to the forensic archaeologist.  I am sure 
the rod is being used to probe for unseen, covered bodies.  If the probe 
comes in contact with decomposing flesh, it picks up products of 
decomposition (ammonias, etc); these products of decay have a distinctive 
signature and boquet to the trained nose.  They also would be readily 
recognizable by gas chromatography in a laboratory.

I might mention that vandals in the American Southwest, out to loot 
prehistoric graves to steal the ceramic pots buried with the deceased, often 
us a thin metal probe with a t-handle.  They dont smell for death, but 
rather, feel for resistance and textural change in the soils.  I knew one 
vandal who claimed to be able to distinguish rock form bone from a ceramic 
pot; he claimed he could probe down and predict which materials he was about 
to excavate; the probe helped him to predict where to dig.  (In fact there 
is a great deal of folk knowledge among pot hunters in the American 
Southwest regarding how to design and construct probes, which metals to use, 
how flexible they should be,how long the probe shafts should be, how the 
probe tips should be finished etc. Law enforcement officials have 
confiscated these probes, and you would be surprised to know that they can 
be fit into functional and stylistic typologies depending upon intended use 
in particular soils.  These probe styles also vary geographically across the 
American Southwest).

Brian Kenny


Subject: Forensic investigations in Bosnia
Date: Tue, 23 Apr 1996 21:34:56 +01 00 (BST)
From: "James Batchelor"
Hi Brian -  Here is the AP report that I recived from the BBC; can you give 
me your comments on this ?  Cheers James
Department Archaeology
University of Southampton
Southampton UK


Forwarded message:
From Fri Apr 19 09:22:37 1996
Date: Fri, 19 Apr 1996 08:59:28 +0000
To: J.Batchelor
Subject: Forensic investigations in Bosnia
You may remember that I contacted you last year in connection with a lecture 
due to be given at Oxford by the Yugoslav forensic scientist Dr Zoran 
Stankovic. I hope you will excuse me for troubling you again but I was 
intrigued by an AP report included below which puzzled me.

In the first part of the report dealing with the US investigators acting for 
the Hague war crimes tribunal a method of "sniffing for death" by inserting 
a metal rod is described.  Is this really a recognized modern forensic 

The report later mentions Dr Stankovic in connection with the exhumation of 
bodies in the West of the region.  One wonders why the exhumation of bodies 
is possible in the latter case but not in the former.  Would there be any 
reason to leave the bodies interred, bearing in mind that the alleged dates 
of death would be July'95 in the first case and September in the second?

I would be most grateful for your opinion on this or any other matter 
relating to the forensic work carried out in former Yugoslavia which you may 
be aware of.

Incidentally I have seen some of the 4,500 autopsy reports made by Dr 
Stankovic which contain colour  photographs taken from different angles and 
detailed descriptions of traumas to the bodies in Latin.  I am attempting to 
obtain copies and make them available to those in the forensic science 
community who may be interested.

Yours Sincerely, Tim
Start of AP Report
(BRANJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina-AP)
William Haglund walked through a Bosnian farm Friday, stopping where human 
bones protruded from the mud. Over and over, he inserted a five-foot steel 
pole into the earth, pulled it out and sniffed for death. "You can smell it 
when it's there," said U.N. investigator Jean-Rene Ruez, explaining why his 
colleague was raising the probe to his nose. Haglund, a U.N. consultant from 
Seattle who works with the Boston-based group Physicians for Human Rights, 
recorded his observations with a tape recorder, speaking too quietly for
observers to hear him.

He and his six U.N. colleagues were searching for evidence of a mass grave 
believed to lie beneath the collective farm in the heart of Bosnian Serb 
territory.  Branjevo is about 30 miles northwest of Srebrenica, a Muslim 
enclave that fell to the Serbs last July. About 7,000 men disappeared when 
the town fell. Witnesses say Serb soldiers took the men away, executed them 
and buried them on farms.

Perhaps 1,000 Buried Here Madeleine Albright, the U.S. Ambassador to the 
United Nations, visited the site two weeks ago and said she believed as many 
as 1,000 people were buried under the farm. The U.N. team searched Friday 
for evidence to back up that belief. They took photographs of mounds of dirt 
and of human remains that protruded from them. They tagged each bit of 
evidence with yellow markers. Team members said it was only a preliminary 
investigation and declined to talk about what they found. There have been no
major excavations since they arrived in the area Monday, and none are 
expected until May.

A Bosnian Serb told the Paris newspaper Le Figaro last month that he and 
fellow commandos were ordered on July 20 to execute about 1,200 men dressed 
in civilian clothing who were bused in to be shot. Drazen Erdemovic, who has 
since been extradited to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in the Netherlands, 
said he personally shot 70 men during the killing spree. "I tried to kill as 
few people as possible," he said. "At one point, I murmured to one of my 
comrades, 'God knows everything we've done today.' He snapped back at me, 
'Shut up and shoot!"'

One of Several Srebrenica Grave Sites
Branjevo is just one of several places near Srebrenica believed to hold mass 
graves.investigators are spreading out to search them for evidence that can 
be used by the war crimes tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the 
slaughter. On Thursday, the U.N. investigators found dozens of blindfolds 
and some human remains in the village of Sahinici, supporting survivors' 
accounts of a slaughter of hundreds there.

And on Friday, Bosnian Serbs said they had excavated 181 bodies near the 
western town of Mrkonjic Grad since March 30. The Serbs say the victims were 
killed by Muslim and Croat troops during an offensive last fall. All but one 
of the bodies showed signs of violence, the head of the team, Zoran 
Stankovic, told the Belgrade, Yugoslavia-based Tanjug news agency on Friday. 
Tanjug said 74 of the 181 bodies removed so far had been identified. 
Stankovic said the victims were mostly civilians, with the youngest 22 years 
old and the oldest over 90. There were some soldiers in the grave, and the 
bodies of women killed in their nightgowns.

"I never saw so many bodies with severe head injures," he later told The 
Associated Press. "About half of all the victims were killed with a serious 
blunt instrument, apparently without possibility to defend themselves." 
Stankovic said international observers were present during the dig, and the 
Serbs filmed the procedure.  End of AP Report