Archaeology within the context of criminal justice: from forensics to heritage crime

Posted on November 30, 2016


Two videos from a session at the CIfA conference for the weekly video post.

Session Abstract:

Although the contexts differ between archaeology and crime scene work, the methods applied in both are similar. Features are registered, finds are collected and analysed, a chronology of events is established, human interactions are reconstructed and reports are written. Working within the context of the law requires a chain of evidence and a report that is understood by judges and will withstand examination in court. Archaeologists working in this context find that their archaeological theories and methods are easily applied to police investigations or crime scene work. This may be as a SOCO, a forensic archaeologist, or on matters involving threatened archaeological sites and heritage. Archaeological knowledge on subjects common in archaeology such as dating materials, searching for sites, the use of GIS, antiquities or site protection often fills a knowledge hiatus in police work. This session will elaborate on the interaction between archaeology, police investigations and law.

Organisers: Roosje de Leeuwe, Alexandria Young

The application of structure-from-motion as a documentation tool in forensic archaeology and beyond

This paper presents the results of a preliminary study (conducted as part of an MSc thesis) exploring the use of structure-frommotion in the documentation of mass graves. Although based on a simulation approach, interesting results have been achieved which can be directly applied to a variety of forensic contexts, both in the field of forensic archaeology and crime scene investigation.
Structure-from-motion (SfM) is a 3D photogrammetry method which is becoming increasingly applied in the heritage sector. It is based on the reconstruction of still photographs into a point cloud similar to that produced by a laser scanner. However, it is very low cost which makes it suitable for fields such as archaeology and policing which are both under great financial pressure and subject to funding cuts.
This paper aims to explore the potential of SfM by presenting its advantages and disadvantages with regards to a variety of forensic situations.

Waltraud Baier MSc, Dr Carolyn Rando

Cloud atlas case: how 17th century actions led to a conviction in the 21st century

In 2007 a diver from Kent salvaged five bronze cannon ranging in date from the late 1500s to the mid 1600s. Ostensibly recovered from two different wreck sites, two of the guns were English and were recovered from the wreck of the warship HMS London, which sank in the Thames Estuary in 1665, the remaining three being Dutch guns supposedly recovered from an unidentified wreck site outside of UK territorial waters. Under UK legislation, all unclaimed wrecks from within UK territorial waters become property of the Crown and the Receiver of Wreck will dispose of this wreck on behalf of the Crown. However, the Crown makes no claim on wrecks from outside of UK territorial waters and, if no owner is found, salvors are likely to keep the entirety of the recovered wreck material. Following initial research, suspicions were raised regarding the provenance of the three Dutch guns. Suggestions that they too originated from the warship London were examined but could not be substantiated. The guns were eventually released to the salvor in January 2010 and were subsequently sold at auction. They were purchased by an American collector and shipped to the US, where they remain. Later in 2010, the same finder reported the recovery of another historic bronze gun dating to the mid-1500s. Suspicions were immediately raised and renewed enquiries in the UK, the Netherlands and the USA began to build on the theory that all three of the Dutch guns had been recovered from the wreck of the HMS London. But why would Dutch guns be found on an English warship and how, 350 years later, could it be proven that these guns were indeed on the board the HMS London when it sank and did not come from the bottom of the North Sea as the diver maintained? This paper explains how the case against the diver was built and how 17th century clerks from Amsterdam provided evidence.

Alison Kentuck (Receiver of Wreck), Roosje de Leeuwe


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