Forensic Research

Forensic Geophysics

One of the things I find most enjoyable about my work is that I can apply my geophysical knowledge to a variety of situations, working in new disciplines and answering questions that don’t always have an archaeological aspect. A good example of this is my work on forensic investigations. From time to time I’ve been asked to apply the techniques of archaeological geophysics to the world of forensics, assisting the authorities with criminal investigations across Ireland, which I’ve been doing regularly since 2008. Due to operational constraints, I’ve not published any of my work in this area and I don’t discuss my forensic cases, however I can tell you that some of my previous investigations have included:

  • Clandestine Grave Detection
  • Cold Case Homicide
  • Missing Persons Inquiries
  • Buried Weapon Detection
  • Buried Vehicle Detection
  • Void Detection
  • Burial-plot Irregularities
  • Consultations on Search Methods

Forensic surveys tend to occur at a much higher resolution than archaeological geophysical assessments, which means that they can be very slow and intensive affairs. A variety of geophysical instruments and search methods can be used to identify and map objects or features associated with criminality. Geophysical instruments measure small changes in the magnetic and/or electrical properties of the earth which can indicate where metal, voids and in-filled graves etc. are located under the ground. The first case I worked on, I was surrounded by 30 cops with shovels waiting for me to say ‘X marks the spot’, a fairly high pressure scenario that required ‘instant’ results. Rarely in geophysics is it possible to produce instant results – error checking, quality control, data processing, analysis, consideration of all the variables and finally an interpretation of the data all need to be considered before pointing to ‘X’. Since then, I’ve helped to develop a methodology to work with investigators to build on the unique knowledge of each case and encompass a wider series of investigations beyond the use of geophysical techniques.

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