Friday 22 May 2015

Aquatic Forensics Group

We at the Burial Research Consortium are proud to welcome a new group of academics and forensic practitioners into the fold. The Aquatic Forensics Group are interested in all forms of forensic evidence found in water, such as diatoms and micro-organisms that can help the estimation of post-mortem submersion interval of drowned victims, the provenance of bodies of water and the diagnosis of drowning. We welcome them all, and encourage you to check out their 'sister' website.

Tuesday 21 April 2015

Only a matter of time?

A new article has just been published in Police Oracle regarding the burgeoning campaign amongst UK academics to instigate a human taphonomy facility in the UK. The BRC's Dr Anna Williams was interviewed about her belief that one is needed in the UK.
(Free login may be required to access the article).

Thursday 8 January 2015

Geological Society meeting

Members of the Burial Research Consortium attended the recent conference on Near Surface Geophysics and Forensic Geoscience, a Specialist sub-group meeting of the Geological Society of London on the 2nd and 3rd December 2014.

The following work was presented:

Geophysical monitoring of simulated clandestine graves using electrical and group penetrating radar methods: 4-6 years.
Pringle, J. Jervis, J. Roberts, D. Dick, H. Cassidy, N. and Cassella, J.

Geophysical detection and analysis of mass burial and clandestine graves within the Cementerio del Salvador, Oviedo, Spain.
Roberts, D. Fernandez Alvarez, J. and Pringle, J.

Quantifying geophysical response of graves against burial age: electrical resistivity, magnetic susceptibility and GPR methods.
Van Der Putten, R. Locher, P. Evans, G. Kerr, M. Beard, D. Wisniewski, K. Pringle, J. and Goodwin, J.

Friday 22 August 2014

On the agenda: Human Taphonomy Facility in the UK

This is a short article published in this month's Home Office Forensic Pathology newsletter:

A Human Taphonomy Facility for Europe? (Dr Anna Williams, University of Huddersfield)

Taphonomy is the study of the processes of decomposition and decay of organic and inorganic materials in a variety of environments. The study of human decomposition in different conditions is crucial for the understanding of the factors that influence the rate of decomposition, and vital for the accurate estimation of post-mortem interval, which underpins the successful investigation of crime. The only way to accurately examine these processes is to experiment using human cadavers in specialist outdoor laboratories called “taphonomy facilities”.

At present, a Human Taphonomy Facility (HTF) does not exist in the UK or Europe. In the USA, there are six functioning facilities that regularly use donated human cadavers for undertaking forensic research into decomposition in different environments. Permission has recently been granted for the establishment of a HTF in Australia. Taphonomic processes are highly dependent on climatic conditions, flora and fauna, and so these facilities are not in competition, but are working together to provide an overview of decomposition processes in different climates. The scientific publications created by the HTFs in the USA have made significant contributions to forensic science in the last three decades.
The geological and climatic conditions, and animal and insect scavengers in Europe and the UK are very different to those in the US and Australia, and the data generated from these HTFs is not directly relevant or applicable to forensic cases in Europe. There have been attempts to rectify this imbalance in the UK through the use of taphonomy facilities that use porcine cadavers as human analogues, but the data generated is necessarily „one step away‟ from human data and its applicability is still debated. Without a human taphonomy facility in Europe, we are falling behind the USA and Australia in terms of academic and forensic advancements in the understanding of human decomposition. This already has a profound effect on expert witness evidence and testimony in criminal cases (Grinberg, 2011).

In the last five years, there has been one attempt to establish a HTF in the UK, by Omega Supplies Ltd, which failed due to a lack of collaboration between Universities. There is now an opportunity to establish a Human Taphonomy Facility properly. The Facility would only work with the involvement and agreement of organisations such as DEFRA, the Environment Agency, Human Tissue Authority, ACPO, NPIA, CAST, Royal College of Pathologists, Home Office, the Research Councils, HSE, National Research Ethics Service, and the Chartered Society for Forensic Science, among others. This is an ambitious project that requires collaboration and forethought from a range of agencies. It requires careful planning in order to comply with ethics and environmental legislation, and not to offend public sensibilities*.

Members of the Burial Research Consortium are hoping to convene a meeting of key stakeholders in the autumn at the University of Huddersfield to discuss and debate the feasibility of establishing a HTF for Europe in the UK.

Cassella, J. and 10004883 (Student number) (2014) The Feasibility of a United Kingdom Human Taphonomy Facility. Staffordshire University, unpublished Forensic Science Independent Project.

Cross, P. Simmons, T. Cunliffe, R. Chatfield, L. (2010) Establishing a Taphonomic Research Facility in the United Kingdom. Forensic Science Policy & Management, 1(4):187-191.

Grinberg, E. (2011) Flawed forensic evidence explains Casey Anthony acquittal, experts say. CNN. [Accessed 14th May 2014].

Human Taphonomy Facility for Teaching and Research

Turner B., Wiltshire P. (1999) Experimental validation of forensic evidence: a study of the decomposition of buried pigs in a heavy clay soil. Forensic Science International, 101(2):113-22.

*A recent research report has indicated that there is global public support for the principle and methodology of such an endeavour (Cassella and 10004883, 2014).

Thursday 3 April 2014

Another "body farm" the USA

We at the Burial Research Consortium watched and listened with interest to this press release and video about a forensic taphonomy facility being built at Fox Valley Technical College in Madison, Wisconsin. The 2 acre facility is set to open in 2015, and will primarily focus on decomposition in the northeastern USA climate, including sub-zero temperatures. This represents an important development in furthering forensic taphonomy research, and will be the seventh such facility in the USA. The BRC are at the forefront of the efforts in the UK/Europe to establish a similar facility, and will watch the progress at Fox Valley closely. We wish them the best of luck with the project!

Monday 6 January 2014

Resources, Facilities and Projects

Just a little note to say that we have added more pages onto the BRC blog, including information about ongoing projects, taphonomy facilities in use by the BRC, and a variety of resources provided by our members. Please check them out!

Friday 3 January 2014


Welcome to the new webpage and blog of the Burial Research Consortium. We are a group of academics and researchers based at universities across the UK and abroad who are devoted to furthering our understanding of human and animal decomposition and decay in a variety of depositional environments. Our interests are wide-ranging, from forensic archaeology and anthropology to chemistry, geophysics and geology. Our members are some of the world's most renowned scientists in these fields, and our expertise includes decompositional chemistry, decay of materials and organic substances, and osteological diagenesis. Our aim is to bring together like-minded individuals in the spirit of collaborative research, utilising shared resources, for the greater good of scientific advancement in these areas.
We will use this webpage and blog to advertise our research activities, invite collaboration and discussion, and share ideas about possible future taphonomy and decomposition experiments across the world.