Holistic Approaches to Forensic Investigations: Increasing the Use of Geospatial Technologies in Exhumation Site Research

AAAS is working with the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) to build FAFG's capacity of applying innovative methods to visualize, and analyze evidence recovered from exhumation sites. The project has two main objectives:

1. Provide a training to legal and civil society representatives from Guatemala and Mexico regarding the applications of geospatial technologies in the documentation of human rights violations, and their use in litigation.

2. Increase FAFG’s knowledge of geospatial technologies so as to incorporate them into their human rights investigations. 

Update

AAAS staff traveled to Guatemala in April 2017 to provide the aforementioned legal training, examine FAFG's documentation equipment (i.e., total stations, digital cameras), and accompany FAFG staff to the field to conduct an exhumation and develop a 3D model of the site. 

About the Project

Geospatial technologies have the potential to re-imagine forensic documentation by adding new methods to the toolkits used in exhumations, assisting justice system administrators in understanding mass atrocities, and empowering families with new data to validate and corroborate their experiences. These technologies include a variety of tools and techniques to collect and analyze data associated with a specific spatial location. Geospatial technologies can be incorporated into forensic anthropological research in multiple ways, including the use of GPS, mapping, spatial statistics, photogrammetry, and interactive online geo-visualizations. These methods can expand upon the current toolkit of forensic anthropologists that work in exhumations, both in the field and in their laboratories. Geospatial technologies provide methods to aid in the systematic documentation of evidence as it is collected in the field, analyze the spatial relationships and preserve data in the lab, and provide new ways of communicating complex relationships and spatial information visually to a variety of audiences.

The incorporation of geospatial analysis into exhumation efforts in Guatemala will have a major impact on a variety of challenges that FAFG is working to overcome. First, it will provide FAFG the means to more rigorously document atrocity sites through mapping and three-dimensional modeling. It will provide new methods for understanding the spatial and temporal trends in investigations, which may help to better identify the currently unknown factors that led to the atrocities. It will increase the knowledge available to victims’ family members about the status of loved ones. The activities of this project will also establish the use of additional scientific documentation methods as evidence in litigation within Guatemala, which will build stronger cases and lessen the burden on eyewitness or family statements, making the process less traumatizing.