War crimes leave an indelible mark on the people who survive them, but all too often the true fates of those who are lost are never fully revealed, which is why some scientists are now working on new technologies to locate hidden graves.
The research, which was recently announced at the Meeting of the Americas conference, entails using geophysicists’ tools to locate mass graves. The pilot project is being organized in Colombia, where scientists will bury pig carcasses and then attempt to find them using an array of radar and other technologies.
The technology, if perfected, would have uses beyond that of locating evidence for the prosecution of war criminals. Many countries face wars of different kinds that result in mass casualties. Mexico’s drug war is one example. One 2012 report estimates that more than 48,000 people have died a violent death a result of the illegal drug trade, which doesn’t include 5,000 who have simply disappeared.
If those people are dead, finding them could play a significant role in finding their murderers and providing clues as to how to better manage the conflict. Geophysicists’ tools like the ones used in the ongoing research could help.
Of course, developing new ways to find hidden graves isn’t new. In 2009, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory announced the development of the “Labrador,” an instrument that can detect buried corpses through chemical identification in the soil. The Labrador can even differentiate between animal and human remains, and was successfully tested at the University of Tennessee’s Body Farm, a well-known forensic research facility.
That technology, which has been improved upon in recent years, is now often used to replace dogs when looking for hidden graves.
Even so, the new studies, which focus more on technology that measures geologic differentiation that can indicate a hidden gravesite, could add one more weapon in the fight to bring some of the world’s deadliest criminals to justice.