M.A. Theses: Erin Denise Jessee, 2003

Exhuming Conflict: Some Recommendations for the Creation of a Series of Experimental Mass Grave and Mass Grave-Related Test Sites

This thesis examines how best to envisage a series of experimental models for the replication of mass grave and mass grave-related sites. It arises from the realization that the number and severity of armed conflicts in the world are increasing and so, the need for forensic bio-archaeologists is on the rise in order to recover and interpret most effectively the physical evidence and context of the resulting mass gravesites in terms of prosecuting perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Particular attention is paid to the historical background to forensic investigations of mass graves in relation to the simultaneous development of international humanitarian law, including case studies of either war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in from 1915 to present.

Following this, the nature of the mass grave as a unique archaeological phenomenon is evaluated. A new definition of the term "mass grave" is put forth and a typology is developed to express archaeological differences among types of mass graves, including execution sites (grave or surface), surface deposition sites (temporary or permanent) and inhumation sites (primary, secondary or looted).

Next, the creation of a series of experimental mass grave and mass grave-related sites is addressed in terms of their ability to improve the field methods employed and thus increase the scientific and legal validity of forensic bio-archaeological input from the perspective of the international humanitarian law community. The proposed experiments are considered in terms of the theoretical concerns highlighted in past experimental archaeological studies. In an attempt to organize deficient areas of knowledge in the discipline several classes of evidence are discussed in terms of the primary research questions currently affecting the study of mass grave and mass grave-related sites.

Finally, a research design is formulated for each type of mass grave and mass grave-related site, with emphasis placed on such issues as the location, staff, key facilities and equipment, time and model required for the experiments. It will be necessary to replicate a similar experience upon the subjects as that of victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide so as to accurately simulate the various taphonomic processes affecting mass grave and mass grave-related sites. These experiments should provide the academic community with some standards for percentage of information lost due to site formation processes. The overarching goal of the thesis, however, is to show that not only is the creation of a series of experimental mass grave and mass grave-related sites possible, but that it will prove worthwhile in terms of the shared body of knowledge employed by forensic bio-archaeologists in the field.