Item Details

Non-scientific Archaeological Recovery of Human Remains from an Ancient Well in India: Challenges in their Identification

Issue: Vol 1 No. 1 (2017)

Journal: Archaeological and Environmental Forensic Science

Subject Areas:

DOI: 10.1558/aefs.32475


Forensic archaeology is a scientific discipline that can expose past crime(s) against humanity by recovering the bodies of victims and meticulously documenting any proof of torture, trauma or human rights violations. Archaeological recovery of human remains deposited in pre-existing structures or features such as wells, potholes, natural ravines, roadside trenches, sewage systems etc., have been reported from many sites worldwide. In April, 2014, thousands of human bones, teeth as well as a number of personal effects including coins, medals and beaded armbands were unscientifically excavated from a well—presumably dating from the nineteenth century—located under a religious structure in the heart a North Indian town. Without the assistance of scientific expertise or local administration, locals excavated the remains to verify whether the well containing human bones was a result of an event which had been documented in the written records. The unscientific excavation by locals with no formal qualifications in archaeology or anthropology, resulted in the enhanced damage and commingling of human remains limiting information on the minimum number of individuals, age-at-death, sex, pathological conditions, trauma, etc. which may have assisted in identification and a stronger corroboration with the historical records. This paper aims to emphasize that if scientific protocols had been followed—including the participation of a multidisciplinary excavation team with experts from diverse scientific disciplines like forensic archaeology, anthropology, geology, skeletal biology, history, forensic medicine etc.—data and context would have been greatly enhanced and information may have been obtained about the deceased individuals and whether they were the victims of crimes dating to the nineteenth century.

Author: J. S. Sehrawat, R. K. Pathak

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