Marco Aurelio Guimarães, Raffaela Arrabaça Francisco, Martin Evison, Edna Sadayo Miazato Iwamura, Carlos Eduardo Palhares Machado, Ricardo Henrique Alves da Silva, Maria Eliana Castro Pinheiro, Diva Santana and Julie Alvina Guss Patrício
Exhumation may be defined as the legally sanctioned excavation and recovery of the
remains of lawfully buried or – occasionally – cremated individuals, as distinct from
forensic excavations of clandestinely buried remains conducted as part of a criminal
investigation and from unlawful disinterment of human remains, commonly referred to as
bodysnatching. The aim of this article is to review the role of exhumation – so defined –
in the activities of CEMEL, the Medico-Legal Centre of the Ribeirão Preto Medical
School-University of São Paulo, in international, regional and local collaborations.
Exhumations form part of routine forensic anthropology casework; scientific research in
physical and forensic anthropology; and forensic casework conducted in collaboration with
the Brazilian Federal Police; and are carried out as part of humanitarian investigations
into deaths associated with the civil–military dictatorship of 1964 to 1985. This article
aims to offer a non-technical summary – with reference to international comparative
information – of the role of exhumation in investigative and scientific work and to
discuss developments in their historical and political context.