Volume 43, Issue 1 (January 1998)
Forensic Archeology and the Need for Flexible Excavation Strategies: A Case Study
Anthropologists from the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CILHI) are routinely confronted with challenging situations when searching for the remains of American servicemen lost in armed conflicts. All CILHI anthropologists are well-versed and experienced in “textbook” archeological methods. As such, standard excavation techniques and procedures are the foundation for every CILHI recovery. Yet, the inherent nature of the CILHI missions prescribe excavation strategies that depart from those regularly presented in archeology textbooks. The unique nature and grand scale of the CILHI missions; environmental, physical, and geographic hazards; the salvage nature of the missions; time and budget constraints; and the inherent politically and emotionally charged atmospheres of the missions necessitate flexible excavation methods. For example, many CILHI recovery operations in Southeast Asia are excavations of large craters created by the impact of high-speed military aircraft in remote, unpopulated locales. In addition to rugged and dangerous terrain, an abundance of unexploded ordnance and poisonous reptiles and insects typically complicate excavations. These challenging circumstances dictate that the CILHI anthropologist constantly adapt conventional archeological techniques to unconventional excavation situations to maintain the crucial balance between maximum data recovery and scientific protocol.