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A Clandestine Burial in Costa Rica: Prospection and Excavation

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This case report describes the search for a clandestine grave in Costa Rica for which the police sought the assistance of an archaeologist. An anonymous informant suggested that the victim had been kidnapped and murdered, placed in a shallow grave in the woods, then covered with lime and cement. A search of the area to detect conventional signs of burial (e.g., slumping, different plant growth) resulted in excavation of unrelated features of past disturbance. Different aspects of the grave including the deposition of cement powder over the body prevented its initial discovery. Improvisation of conventional archaeological excavation methods and use of police familiar with archaeological excavation resulted in the location of the grave and exhumation of the victim without loss of important contextual evidence that supported testimony on the cause of death. The taphonomic effects of high-lying ground water and lime in the tropical burial environment are briefly discussed. Recommendations such as the construction of a temporary sump to lower the ground water level in the grave during excavation are made to assist in similar investigations in the future.
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Keywords: Costa Rica; forensic archaeology; forensic science; grave detection; grave excavation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada V5A 1S6.

Publication date: July 1, 2008

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