Detectives Experience Forensic Archaeology Training

LEONARDTOWN, Md. (Jan. 23, 2009)—In December of 2008 members of the St. Mary's County Bureau of Criminal Investigations, along with St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office Crime Lab Technicians, attended Forensic Archaeology Training provided by Dr. Henry M. Miller and Dr. Timothy B. Riordan.

Forensic Archaeology combines osteology (scientific study of bones) and human remains with archaeological techniques to recover vital evidence in critical death investigations. Forensic Archaeology is relatively new to the criminal justice system and provides techniques for excavating and recovering buried human remains, personal effects, weapons, stolen goods, and other potential evidence of crimes.

Dr. Henry M. Miller is the Director of Research at Historic St. Mary's City. He holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Michigan State University. Dr. Miller leads a team of archaeologists and historians in exploring and interpreting the 17th century capital of Maryland. He developed the new exhibit at the St. Johns site and is leading the design team for the soon to be completed Chapel exhibit. Dr. Miller specializes in the analysis of animal bones recovered from archaeological sites.

Dr. Timothy B. Riordan is Chief Archaeologist at Historic St. Mary's City. He holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Washington State University. Dr. Riordan supervises excavations at the museum and teaches an annual field school in archeology. He has extensive experience in burial excavation and site discovery methods. Dr. Riordan specializes in field and excavation methods.

Dr. Riordan started the training by pointing out the similarities between archaeology and forensics. He described the characteristics of soils and how the various characteristics can assist in determining whether the soils have been disturbed, how long ago disturbance may have occurred, and what the disturbance says about the scene/site.

Dr. Riordan spoke about methods by which buried bodies may be located, including high-tech methods such as ground penetrating radar and low-tech, but effective, probing with the use of a tile rod. Dr. Riordan also proposed quarter-inch mesh screening as the most effective method of sifting through an average soil, and the value of water screening through a window screen in some contexts. Information on scene/site contamination was presented, which led to discussion concerning determination of behavior from the material left behind.

Dr. Miller presented the differences, as well as similarities, between human and animal bones, pointing out the similarities of some animals, such as bears, to that of human bones. He also talked about the environmental effects of weathering on bones.

The information presented added to the arsenal of techniques and skills available for use by the BCI investigators. With experienced field and excavating guidance, potential evidence can accurately be located and recovered while ensuring the chain of custody.

Source: St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office

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