Exhumation Why Who When How 13221 Coffin

We wrote previously that time of burial after death can differ according to culture and religion. But within the same culture, habits may have changed over time. Indeed in the last century, a deceased person was laid in a coffin and exposed to his relatives in his house a few days (generally three) before being inhumed, letting enough time for necrophagous flies under favourable conditions to oviposit. Nowadays, dead persons are within a short time transported and kept at a morgue, avoiding insect colonisation Wyss and Cherix (2006).

Exhumation is generally conducted under legal decision to enable a second expert opinion to find the cause of death or to perform a paternity test (in France a young woman claiming that a famous actor was her father obtained the judicial authorities' permission to exhume his body for DNA analyses). Motter (1898) in the United States could study the fauna in 150 exhumed coffins. Bourel et al. (2004) related in their article exhumations requested not only by local authorities but also by insurance companies to clarify the cause of death (disease, accidental death at the workplace).

In other situation, study of the fauna associated with buried carrion helped to improve knowledge in funeral practices in ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians who already knew that the mummies (or corpses) in the process of mummification could be damaged by 'thanatophagous' insects (Huchet 1996).

The initial purpose of exhumation is to collect evidence to help investigation: identification of one (or several) victim(s), determination of the cause of death, determination of the modus operandi, and estimation of the time of death. In order to reconstruct the chain of events, it is necessary to study skeleton fragment, teeth, prostheses, hairs, jewellery, clothes, personal belongings, etc.

Study of soil, insects or pollen sampling may indicate the location of death or the season. The presence of a gun, gun shot bullet, or knife, are evidences to infer a potential cause of death. The present list of elements is not exhaustive, and many other samples can also be analysed (toxic, drug products, etc.). Illegal Graves and Mass Graves

Legally speaking a mass grave is a place where at least three or several illegal executed victims, sometimes more than 100 as in Bosnia, Rwanda or Iraq, were buried without being killed during war fights (Kalacska and Bell 2006).

Historically, forensic investigation, after exhumation of corpses from mass graves, has been carried out since the 1980s with the aim to highlight action of torture and illegal execution of victims (as in Argentina). The United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is one of the main active prosecutions. The main aims of exhumation for ICTY are to (i) confirm witness testimony in case of violation of Human rights, (ii) obtain evidence in order to give argument for prosecution, (iii) establish cause of death and post mortem interval (http://www.un.org/icty). At the end of the Second World War the International Military Tribunal (IMT) was established by the allies. At this period, the element of responsibility of crime was mainly based on testimony or written documents. Thanks to the improvement of sciences, forensic investigations were conducted in Ukraine in 1990, by the Australian Special Investigation Unit to locate Second World War mass graves (Skinner and Sterenberg 2005) and find evidences with modern techniques. More recently, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CGWC) started the recovery of Australian and British soldiers who died in one of the most tragic battles of the First World War (Battle of Fromelles in Pheasant Wood, in July 1916) in Northern France. This 1-year project associates several scientists from different disciplines (anthropology, odontology, DNA, etc.) to study in a laboratory set up close to the mass grave site; all kinds of evidences collected to help to identify a maximum number of soldiers and create the first war cemetery in 50 years, 93 years after this battle (http://www.cwgc.org).

With more efficient techniques of recovery and development of forensic science, in addition to influence of public opinion and media (political position, human rights organisations, etc.), many investigations carried out during these past 30 years revealed presence of mass graves all over the world, especially in South America, thanks to the action of agencies1 for the investigation of mass graves such

1 The list of the following associations is not exhaustive.

as Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, Latin American Forensic Anthropology Association, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), American Association for the Advance in Science and United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda in Africa (Skinner and Sterenberg 2005). Other independent organisations are involved in research such as the Institute for International Criminal Investigation (IICI), Inforce Foundation, British Association for Human Identification (BAHID) and Centre for International Forensic Assistance. In Europe, United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and International Commission for Missing persons from the former Yugoslavia (ICMP) largely contributed to the exhumation in association with different kinds of forensic experts.

However, forensic entomologists seldom took part in such research and the main information came from observations from non-specialists in this field, generating a lack of precision in the description of the development stage, or in the species identification or even mistakes in PMI estimation.

In 2000, a Disaster Victims Identification (DVI) team from Belgium gathering investigators and forensic experts (pathologists, ondontologists, anthropologists and entomologists) was asked to work in Kosovo under the aegis of ICTY (Beauthier et al. 2000; Beauthier 2008). In this part of Europe, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) still leads exhumation, in association with ICMP (Skinner and Sterenberg 2005). These organisations helped and still participate in collecting different kinds of evidences or material elements (bones fractures, presence of gunshot bullets, marks made with different kinds of tools on bones, etc.) that can help the investigation with aims to punish the authors of such acts. Another reason is less investigative and more humanitarian, by providing information (dental finding, bone elements, prostheses, DNA, jewellery, personal properties, etc.) in order to facilitate identification of victims and enable families to receive the dead body of their relative so that they can go into mourning. In this kind of mission, methodology for investigation and identification should be coordinated. Such work improved significantly the knowledge in forensic taphonomy (Haglund and Sorg 2002), which deals with buried bodies.

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