Department of Archaeology

Research Profile: Derek Congram

December 22, 2010
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Derek Congram completed his PhD in archaeology at Simon Fraser University in 2010.

He writes:

Since 1999 I have been working as a forensic archaeologist and anthropologist. This has entailed the usually criminal investigation of crimes involving the disappearance and death of civilians, but also soldiers. I have worked for different groups including the United Nations, the US, Costa Rican and British Columbian legal authorities, non-governmental organizations and legal defence counsel.  I have conducted forensic work in about eight countries including Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq.

My work typically involves the search for and recovery of human remains (eg, excavation of mass graves) and their subsequent analysis.

My PhD research involved helping with the search for missing civilians from the Spanish Civil War — there are tens of thousands of them, mostly from 1936–1937. It’s a private, grass-roots initiative by families of victims, and the Spanish government, according to the United Nations, has shirked its legal responsibilities of investigating these missing civilians. In fact, a Spanish judge for whom I served briefly as an advisor is on trial for attempting to investigate the controversial issue.

To complicate matters further, an Argentine judge is investigating whether or not the Spanish government has been negligent in their failure to investigate. This is a result of Spanish families who fled the war, immigrated to Argentina and who have now petitioned the Argentine courts to act on their behalf investigating their missing family members. The surviving children of the victims are now very elderly and so attention to their cause is really quite urgent.

I am currently doing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command’s Central Identification Laboratory (JPAC-CIL), which is based in Hawai’i. JPAC is a branch of the US Navy that is tasked with the search, recovery, identification and repatriation of US personnel who have died in past conflicts overseas (mostly Korea, Vietnam, WWII).

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