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Use of the Global Positioning System in the Field Recovery of Scattered Human Remains

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This study examines the Global Positioning System (GPS) as a tool for field mapping of scattered human remains or other materials in forensic investigations. Two aspects of the GPS are considered: (1) the level of accuracy that can be obtained using a mid-priced GPS unit, and (2) the effectiveness of using the GPS to map scattered materials. The positional accuracy of the GPS receiver was tested using a National Geodetic Survey (NGS) point located in Baton Rouge, LA. The utility of the GPS for mapping was investigated by setting up a mock field recovery and mapping the remains using both the GPS and traditional archeological methods. The results indicate that the positional error for a single location using GPS was less than one-half meter. However, when multiple positions were considered, the data produced on different days were not consistent. Further, the GPS receiver used in this study could not distinguish items in close association. Factors such as tree cover density, the proximity of the materials to structures or trees, and satellite positioning contributed to the erratic data. These results indicate that traditional techniques and photographs are still indispensable for mapping scattered remains or artifacts.
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Keywords: field recovery; forensic anthropology; forensic science; geographic information system; global positioning system

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography and Anthropology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803.

Publication date: January 1, 2007

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