Volume 20 Issue 1, 2005

One chance only: advocating the use of archaeology in search, location and recovery at disaster scenes

Soren Blau

Peer-reviewed Article

Archived Article


The public has traditionally perceived the discipline of archaeology as being concerned with ancient ruins, treasure hunting and Egyptian mummies. While archaeology may have suffered from a perception problem, there is no doubt that the discipline plays a valuable role in providing evidence about both recent and distant past cultures. In the last decade archaeology has extended its utility into forensic, human rights, and mass disaster scene investigations. Archaeology has proven itself to be an effective investigative tool both nationally (particularly in North America and the UK) and internationally (in the investigation of war crimes in, for example, Bosnia and Croatia). To date however, there has been limited use of archaeological techniques in these areas in Australia. As with archaeology, the key issues in the investigation of disaster scenes are response and recovery. This paper examines the ways in which archaeologists can potentially contribute to an effective disaster scene response in Australia. The paper highlights the need for the formation of a professional body of forensic archaeologists who can be called upon to work with emergency services. Efforts to establish such a group are outlined.