Using an Alternate Light Source (ALS) to Search for Surface Deposited Skeletal Remains

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Tracy E. Brown
Angi M. Christensen


Searches for skeletal remains can be complicated by taphonomic processes that result in the disarticulation, fragmentation, and redistribution of remains. The consequence is often an incomplete recovery, with small bones, fragments, and teeth especially susceptible to being overlooked during a search. Here we test whether supplementing a traditional line search with a second search using an alternate light source (ALS), performed after dark, will result in the recovery of additional skeletal remains. Using 48 surface-scattered Sus scrofa bones and teeth, all measuring less than ~1.5” (4 cm), three search approaches were tested: (1) a daytime line search only; (2) a nighttime ALS search only; and (3) a daytime line search followed by a nighttime ALS search. Results indicate that search approaches involving an ALS (either alone or in combination with a daytime line search) located significantly more remains than a daytime line search alone (p < 0.001). It is recommended that traditional line searches be supplemented with an ALS search when possible, which is likely to increase the quantity of skeletal remains located.

KEYWORDS: Forensic anthropology, alternate light source (ALS), skeletal remains, surface scatter, search and recovery

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