Universiteit Leiden

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Knowledge from now

Osteoarchaeologists help forensic scientists solve crimes. They also study bone material from the Second World War in order to identify victims.

NFI collaboration

The Laboratory for Human Osteoarchaeology works together with the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI). The two institutes conduct more or less the same research, but for different purposes. Researchers from the University and the NFI now share their knowledge: their research methods then improve faster and they can exchange experiences from the field. ‘The NFI can learn a lot from osteoarchaeology and its research methods in the field,’ says Menno Hoogland. ‘At the scene of a crime, objects are often only collected that are relevant to the investigation, whereas archaeologists collect and survey everything. Archaeologists look at the whole picture, whereas forensic researchers focus on objects that are linked to the crime. However, archaeological research shows that some things may not appear to be important but turn out to be the missing piece of the puzzle.’ Furthermore, soil processes are an important aspect of archaeological research. Stratigraphy, the study of different layers of soil, shows how an object ended up in the ground. Furthermore, it is important to know how human remains change in the ground as time passes and what the reason for this is. This knowledge helps forensic specialists understand a crime scene in the ground.

Identification of war victims

Tens of thousands of American soldiers who fought in the Second World War are still missing. Thousands are buried in unidentified war graves in the Netherlands as well as in plane wrecks in the ground all around the world. The American government is going to work together with the Department of Osteoarchaeology to localise these wrecks and dig them up. Some large aeroplanes had several soldiers on board and their remains lie together in a very small area. This makes it complex to identify every soldier. The researchers compare the bone remains in the wreck with the soldiers’ medical data. This enables them to link the remains to one person.

Wrecks of American aeroplanes from the Second World War (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
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