Forensic Archeology: A Means of Closure

Forensic archeology, to my surprise, is not what we often see on television. Although it involves people who have already passed away, often times we only have remnants of them left – maybe only a bone or two or small pieces of different bones. However, this branch of archeology is much more important than we give it credit for. It serves as a means of bringing about closure to the immediate families of the deceased, whether it is through a proper burial or information regarding their passing. As such, this branch of archeology is much more humanitarian in nature and can be thought of as a way of giving back to society. As we have learned, respect for the dead (often times in terms of a proper burial) is something that we hold to be very important and this dates back to circa 60,000 years ago, so this need for closure is not something new and we finally have a way of obtaining it in cases such as the one written here.

Figure 1: An image of Charlie Armstrong.

Figure 1: An image of Charlie Armstrong.

In this article from 2010, we see that forensic archeology was used to find a member of the Disappeared, people who were killed and had their bodies hidden during The Troubles, a period of thirty years marked by violence in Ireland. Unlike in television, this is not an easy process. It involves working with many parties, such as ICLVR and the family of the deceased, using tools like LIDAR, and a painstaking amount of time (months to years) on the field and mapping possible locations of the bodies. However, this work does pay off. The primary archeologist in the article said the following about his experience finding the body of one of the Disappeared, Charlie Armstrong:

“I’ve got to know Charlie’s widow, Kathleen, and their children very well over the years and know how much it means to them to bring Charlie home and give him a proper burial in consecrated ground. I feel proud that the team has helped them bring their many years of waiting to an end.”

Figure 2: An image of Inniskeen, the region in which Charlie Armstrong's remains were found.

Figure 2: An image of Inniskeen, the region in which Charlie Armstrong’s remains were found.

While television often spreads misinformation on forensic archeology, it brings the field into the eyes of the public, much like The Big Bang Theory does. Personally, I would not be interested in physics if it weren’t for the introduction to The Big Bang Theory and Michio Kaku (a physicist and public advocate of science). And in both fields, we see an increase in enrollment of students.
If you would like to know more about The Troubles, please take a look below:
BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2015. <>.
There is also a newer article from the BBC that has pointed to the discovery of other members of the Disappeared below:
“The Disappeared: ‘More than One Body’ Found during Search for Joe Lynskey – BBC News.” BBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2015. <>.
The original article which I referenced is below (this is also the source of my images):
“Using Forensic Archaeology to Find the Disappeared – BBC News.” BBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2015. <>.

What Coffee Says About Us



Figure 1: Ancestral Pubeloan mug from the Mesa Verde region (de Pastino).

Imagine going to your local Starbucks and ordering a coffee. Once you’re done with your coffee, you throw out the cup in the garbage can outside of the Starbucks or at your office. What will happen to that cup 500 years in the future, or even 1,000 years? What if it is in a landfill, still trying to decompose, and a garbologist from another civilization is performing an archeological search and they find this? Well, when they examine the contents, they will find traces of cacao. This is where context matters. Taking a look at our location, they will come to the conclusion that we did not have the adequate environment to grow cocoa beans in our backyards or at any facilities nearby, and the closest place with optimum conditions would be Hawaii, nearly 5,000 miles away. What can they deduce from this? Well, from the sheer volume of cups and mugs with cacao traces, they will deduce that our civilization was highly advanced because it had a complex trading system with other locations and carried items across vast distances very efficiently.

A recent a study has found traces of cacao, across the prehistoric Southwest, in ceramic cups. And context here, too, is important. The study looked at a region spanning from Colorado to Chihuahua. This region, too, did not have suitable conditions to grow cocoa beans for caffeinated drinks. The study looked at 177 pottery samples, with 40 of them, or 22%, containing traces of cacao. While 22% does not seem high to us now, it was surely significant back then because it meant that they had a steady supply and traded with people from other regions, much like us now. Additionally, the study found that there were traces of other plants in these pottery samples that had high amounts of caffeine, which means that they were well-aware of the beneficial effects that caffeine has on the brain (or at the very least, the person). And, as the author of the article puts it,

“It was a striking reminder of the great economic reach of the Ancestral Puebloans, whose sites had already turned up other Mesoamerican items, like copper bells and remains of scarlet macaws.” (De Pastino)


Figure 2: Image of cacao (Cacao-pic).

The juxtaposition of the modern day person and a person from the prehistoric Southwest shows that there are a vast number of similarities between civilizations, despite a large difference in the times that these civilizations emerged and became prominent. One can only speculate as to what cacao was really used for in the past, for it is difficult to get into the mind of our ancestors. However, it is entirely possible for it to be for the same reason as us: a medicine for fatigue or waking oneself (which they may have taken to be spiritually). Needless to say, we still resorted to the same resolution to our problem, which in itself is amazing to think of. Perhaps a civilization from the future will come to the same resolution and drink coffee as they study their ancestors, who were drinking coffee while studying their ancestors.

De Pastino, Blake. “Cocoa, Caffeinated ‘Black Drink’ Were Widespread in Pre-Contact Southwest, Study Finds.” Western Digs (2015): n. pag. Web. 9 Sept. 2015. .

Cacao-pic. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. .