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Scientists Discover New Ways Of Identifying Secret Graves

May 14, 2013 09:17 PM EDT

Forget large-scale excavations, metal detectors and cadaver dogs - a group of scientists led by Jamie Pringle, a lecturer in geoscience at Keele University in the United Kingdom, are pioneering new techniques to be used in discovering secret graves through the use of geophysics.

"Nowadays, there are thousands of missing people around the world that could have been tortured and killed and buried in clandestine graves," Pringle said in a press release. "This is a huge problem for their families and governments that are responsible for the human rights for everybody. These people need to be found and the related crime cases need to be resolved."

As presented Tuesday at the Meeting of the Americas in Cancun, Mexico, Pringle and his colleagues are overseeing experiments such as burying pigs underground and sampling the earth above them in order to develop a reliable toolkit not only for finding bodies, but discovering such details as the time of death and burial, all of which is critical for convicting murderers.

Specifically, in the latest project presented at the meeting, the researchers propose burying pigs in eight different simulated secret grave scenarios in different types of soil and climates in the country of Colombia.

They plan to then study the mass graves with geophysical methods such as ground penetrating radar, electrical resistivity, conductivity and magnetometry over the coursde of 18 months.

"The project's integrated geophysical survey results will support the search for mass graves and thus help find missing people, bring perpetrators to justice and provide closure for families," said Carlos Molina of the National University of Colombia.

And while the field of research may have a ways to go yet, Pringle’s and others’ discoveries are already being put to use in active forensic cases throughout Europe, according to the press release.

For example, international collaborations among forensic geophysicists have already proved helpful in located the “Disappeared” victims found in the beaches of Northern Ireland. Furthermore, current work is underway to detect Civil War mass graves in Spain.

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