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date: 25 May 2020

Abstract and Keywords

As recent events have shown, mass-fatality disasters can have long and painful aftermaths for the relatives and friends of victims. Archaeologists are becoming increasingly involved in applying their scientific skills to medical/legal issues such as victim identification and disaster-scene investigation, with the understanding that their evidence may be challenged in court later on when matters such as inheritance of property or liability arise. Although their findings refer specifically to the ‘court of law’, an argument is presented to apply similar standards in the ‘court of history’ in which most archaeological scholarship takes place. Disaster archaeologists work as teams under the direction of a controlling authority and in close coordination with law-enforcement and emergency services, so special training and procedures (such as ‘chain-of-custody’) are required along with special health-and-safety protocols. In short, disaster archaeology is an evidence-driven, problem-solving use of archaeology to assist the authorities to find out ‘what happened’ at a disaster scene and to aid the families affected by the disaster in the recovery process. It often takes place under stressful conditions and may not be for everyone, but it makes a difference to the people involved in such a disaster.

Keywords: forensic archaeology, forensic science, victim identification

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