In the mid-1990s, the crime scene toolkit was revolutionised by the introduction of
DNA-based analyses such as the polymerase chain reaction, low copy number DNA analysis,
short-tandem repeat typing, pulse-field gel electrophoresis and variable number tandem
repeat. Since then, methodological advances in other disciplines, especially molecular
microbial ecology, can now be adapted for cutting-edge applications in forensic contexts.
Despite several studies and discussions, there is, however, currently very little evidence
of these techniques adoption at the contemporary crime scene. Consequently, this article
discusses some of the popular omics and their current and potential exploitations in the
forensic ecogenomics of body decomposition in a crime scene. Thus, together with published
supportive findings and discourse, knowledge gaps are identified. These then justify the
need for more comprehensive, directed, concerted and global research towards
state-of-the-art microecophysiology method application and/or adaptation for subsequent
successful exploitations in this additional context of microbial forensics.
Truth commissions are widely recognised tools used in negotiation following political
repression. Their work may be underpinned by formal scientific investigation of human
remains. This paper presents an analysis of the role of forensic investigations in the
transition to democracy following the Brazilian military governments of 1964–85. It
considers practices during the dictatorship and in the period following, making reference
to analyses of truth commission work in jurisdictions other than Brazil, including those
in which the investigation of clandestine burials has taken place. Attempts to conceal the
fate of victims during the dictatorship, and the attempts of democratic governments to
investigate them are described. Despite various initiatives since the end of the military
government, many victims remain unidentified. In Brazil, as elsewhere, forensic
investigations are susceptible to political and social influences, leading to a situation
in which relatives struggle to obtain meaningful restitution and have little trust in the
transitional justice process.
The article will present the findings of ethnographic research into the Colombian and
Mexican forensic systems, introducing the first citizen-led exhumation project made
possible through the cooperation of scholars, forensic specialists and interested citizens
in Mexico. The coupling evolution and mutual re-constitution of forensic science will be
explored, including new forms of citizenship and nation building projects – all approached
as lived experience – in two of Latin America‘s most complex contexts: organised crime and
The aim of this article is to shed light on the conditions under which the
funerary management of human remains was carried out by the French authorities
during the early years of the First World War. It seeks to understand how the
urgent need to clear the battlefield as quickly as possible came into conflict
with the aspiration to give all deceased an individualised, or at the very least
dignified, burial. Old military funerary practices were overturned and
reconfigured to incorporate an ideal that sought the individual identification
of citizen soldiers. The years 1914–15 were thus profoundly marked by a
clash between the pragmatism of public health authorities obsessed with hygiene,
the infancy of emerging forensic science, the aching desire of the nation to see
its children buried individually and various political and military imperatives
related to the conduct of the war.
The Tomašica mass grave and the trial of Ratko Mladić
This article focuses on the judicial consideration of the scientific analysis of the Tomašica mass grave, in the Prijedor municipality of Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Often referred to as the largest mass grave in Europe since the Second World War, this grave was fully discovered in September 2013 and the scientific evidence gathered was included in the prosecution of Ratko Mladić before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Based on the exhaustive analysis of all the publicly available trial transcripts, this article presents how the Tomašica evidence proved symptomatic of the way in which forensic sciences and international criminal justice intertwine and of the impact of the former over the latter on the admissibility of evidence, the conduct of proceedings and the qualification of the crimes perpetrated.
COVID-19 has reinstated the sovereign enclosures of corpse management that mothers of the disappeared had so successfully challenged in the past decade. To explore how moral duties toward the dead are being renegotiated due to COVID-19, this article puts forward the notion of biorecuperation, understood as an individualised form of forensic care for the dead made possible by the recovery of biological material. Public health imperatives that forbid direct contact with corpses due to the pandemic, interrupt the logics of biorecuperation. Our analysis is based on ten years of experience working with families of the disappeared in Mexico, ethnographic research within Mexico’s forensic science system and online interviews conducted with medics and forensic scientists working at the forefront of Mexico City’s pandemic. In the face of increasing risks of viral contagion and death, this article analyses old and new techniques designed to bypass the prohibitions imposed by the state and its monopoly over corpse management and identification.
search for bodies and their
identification – has traditionally remained in the hands of forensicscience and has so far only marginally attracted the interest of
history, social anthropology, or law despite the magnitude of their
respective fields of application. In this context, one of the primary
contributions of this volume is to connect the social and forensicsciences, for the first time, in a joint and comparative analysis of how
societies engage in the process of searching for and identifying the
2 Élisabeth Anstett and Jean-Marc Dreyfus
corpses produced by
Challenges and technological solutions to the identification of individuals in mass grave scenarios in the modern context
, traditional, and isolated villages such as
are found in Guatemala, with little admixture between settlements,
using mtDNA may not be the best option. Since then in Guatemala,
a Short Tandem Repeat (STR) population allele frequency database was created from 451 Guatemalans.40 In the Balkans, where it
was estimated that 40,000 people went missing, the first DNA-led
strategy for identification was proposed and implemented by the
International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP) ForensicScience Department.41 However, in all of these contexts, traditional
techniques are still
The introduction outlines the book’s scope and addresses the central questions raised by the included chapters: when, how and why are bodies hidden or exhibited, and what is their effect, either desired or unintended, on various political, cultural or religious practices? With explicit reference to each chapter, a historic and disciplinary background will be presented, raising issues such as the increased application of forensic sciences on the discovered dead body, the emergence of debates surrounding necro-political strategies by states and political communities, and the economy and chain of custody over human remains resulting from historic and contemporary forms of violence.
Human remains and identification presents a pioneering investigation into the practices and methodologies used in the search for and exhumation of dead bodies resulting from mass violence. Previously absent from forensic debate, social scientists and historians here confront historical and contemporary exhumations with the application of social context to create an innovative and interdisciplinary dialogue, enlightening the political, social and legal aspects of mass crime and its aftermaths. Through a ground-breaking selection of international case studies, Human remains and identification argues that the emergence of new technologies to facilitate the identification of dead bodies has led to a “forensic turn”, normalising exhumations as a method of dealing with human remains en masse. However, are these exhumations always made for legitimate reasons? Multidisciplinary in scope, the book will appeal to readers interested in understanding this crucial phase of mass violence’s aftermath, including researchers in history, anthropology, sociology, forensic science, law, politics and modern warfare.