Should it be performed meticulously by professionals with proper tools or hurriedly by trustees with shovels?
Forensic archeology is the application of archeological principles and methodologies to locate and recover evidence within the boundaries of the criminal justice system or for use in civil lawsuits. Individuals qualified to conduct forensic archeological investigations are trained in traditional archeological techniques, but are flexible enough in their approach to adapt these methods to the diverse forensic contexts they may be presented with in criminal or civil cases. Integral skills and considerations outside of the parameters of traditional archeology include: possessing a basic knowledge of law enforcement and legal procedures (as well as the ability to productively cooperate with law enforcement personnel); the capacity to efficiently conduct investigations under severe time constraints and media attention; as well as the ability to skillfully navigate situations that deviate from conventional archeological experience, such as contending with an interment that includes remains retaining soft tissue.
There are three basic objectives of a forensic archeological investigation. The first is the comprehension and interpretation of the taphonomic events—the history of a site after it has been created through the deposition of remains.
Taphonomic events are both natural (N-transforms) and cultural (C-transforms) processes that occur at a site and alter or transform it over time. These processes include: N-transforms such as seasonal water runoff, high levels of animal or insect activity, tree root activity and growth; and C-transforms such as informal digging due to lack of awareness that the location is a site of criminal activity or a civil action, the deposition of litter or other items unrelated to the deposition event, and high levels of human traffic that may disturb the original contexts of deposition. Understanding and being able to interpret the transformations these processes cause at a site is essential to the investigation.
The second principal objective is a reconstruction of the events that led up to and occurred along with the creation of the site and deposition of the body. This is accomplished through fastidious surface collection and excavation methods and detailed documentation and photography at every stage of the investigation. One must remember that forensic archeological investigation of a site is inherently destructive and forensic archeologists must therefore take all precautions to preserve the maximum amount of evidence and context possible.
Lastly, based upon the evidence that the material record provides for this reconstruction and the taphonomic history of the site, an investigator is able to accomplish the third objective—that of an informed interpretation of the events surrounding the deposition of the deceased individual, which will aid in the resolution of the case.