Burial and Exhumation

The first studies dealing with burial fauna were conducted during the nineteenth century (M├ęgnin 1894; Motter 1898). They mainly described the coffin fauna. The other major data dealing with burial environment were provided by experiments using animal models, generally pig carcasses (Payne et al. 1968; Turner and Wilshire 1999; VanLaerhoven and Anderson 1999), or human cadavers (Rodriguez and Bass 1985).

Voluntary exhumation can be conducted for scientific reasons (mass exhumation in the nineteenth century, knowledge of funeral practices in antique civilization) or investigative purposes, to reconstruct a chain of events, cause and time of death (homicide, war crime, natural disaster, etc.). The discovery of a buried cadaver makes the management of such a crime (or death) scene more complex and information harder to obtain.

It is important to make the difference between an illegal grave excavated after a murder and mass grave exhumation (as in Kosovo, Chyprus, Lebanon, Rwanda, Argentina, etc.). In these latter cases, researches conducted at a large scale by governmental or non-governmental organisations, gathering forensic experts in different fields, helped significantly in the knowledge of burial cadavers, especially in forensic entomology. Many programmes are still ongoing and international prosecution will probably ask for new research. That is why the author decided to devote part of this chapter to this topic.

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