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Forensic Archaeology and Taphonomy

Taphonomy Forensic Archaeology is the application of archaeological techniques to the recovery of buried and concealed evidence for the criminal justice sector. Forensic Taphonomy is the investigation of the decay of bodies and associated materials (e.g. hair and textiles) and is used to inform search, excavation and analytical strategies.

Our activities involve both research and casework. Recent casework includes work for UK police forces (search, excavation of buried bodies, interpretation of decay and preservation of bodies and associated evidential materials). A major excavation and search programme has been conducted for the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains (ICLVR) looking for the bodies of ‘the Disappeared’ from Ireland.

A critical issue in Forensic Science is the regulation of specialist expert witnesses. Staff from the University of Bradford have been instrumental in the development of professional standards for Forensic Archaeology in conjunction with the Forensic Regulator and the Institute for Archaeology (IfA). Rob Janaway is the founding Chair of the IfA Expert Panel and Chair of the Special Interest Group.

Research Areas

  • Taphonomy of inhumation burials
  • Survival of trace evidence (e.g. degradation of hair, fibres and textiles)
  • The effect of lime on cadaveric decay
  • Biodegradation of materials/ soil microbiology
  • Long-term Field Experiments (e.g. experimental earthworks projects – Overton Down/ Wareham)
  • Long-term Laboratory Simulations (e.g. Impact of degradation to bone/ hair on biomolecular analysis (e.g. stable light isotope analysis, toxicology, DNA)
  • Forensic entomology