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Digital Forensic Archaeology

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Dig-For-Arch (Digital Forensic Archaeology)

Reporting period: 2017-03-01 to 2019-02-28

The Dig For-Arch project has developed and applied state-of-the-art and innovative 5D, 4D and 3D digital recording methods for use by forensic archaeologists and crime scene investigators, drawing on a variety of disciplinary approaches.

To do so, the project objectives were:

To identify the ways in which existing digital recording methods and modelling techniques can be adopted or hybridised for use at crime scenes;
To develop new forms of digital recording and modelling techniques in response to challenges identified that cannot be solved by the adaptation of existing techniques;
To implement and test the these methods at a range of case study sites where domestic crimes and genocide have occurred;
To develop and implement protocols and training for forensic archaeologists and crime science professionals throughout Europe.

The project has resulted in the development and application of novel digital techniques resulting from case-study-based research in the UK, Cyprus, Poland and Ukraine. State-of-the-art techniques for searching for and documenting buried remains, identifying contaminated crime scenes, visualising complex crime scenes and digitally displaying forensic evidence have been created. Through an associated programme of training and support for specialists and professionals working in the area, and via publication, the project has set new standards in the investigation and re-presentation of crime scenes which can be implemented across Europe.
The project followed a seven-stage workplan to ensure training, background research, pilot case studies, detailed fieldwork, workflow optimization, benchmarking and the development of training and guidelines could all be realised. Following an initial training period for the ER and assessment of the current challenges facing practitioners in crime scene recording in the 21st century, a series of pilot projects were undertaken to develop and implement novel digital technologies across a wide range of environments. During the early stages of project, the team collaborated with London-based firm Advanced Laser Imaging (ALI), to develop novel crime scene recording methodologies for maintaining chain of custody at crime scenes. During a secondment period with ALI. the ER had the chance to investigate and analyse forensic procedure, exploiting real case studies and latest digital technologies, expanding his know-how and research portfolio.

As part of the research and training activities, a series of fieldworks were planned to test and apply Non Destructive Technologies (NDT) for mass graves identification and documentation in conflict areas. During May and June 2017, the Digital Forensic Archaeology team was working at Holocaust sites in Poland and Ukraine in collaboration with international partners. Important results were achieved through the applications of geophysical methods and image-based modelling techniques. Thanks to the extended network of the Project Leader and of the Experience Researcher, new field surveys took place in Cyprus exploiting Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), Terrestrial Laser Scanning (TLS) and Photogrammetric equipment in July 2017 and September 2018. A series of case study surveys were also carried out at Staffordshire University's Crime Scene House to develop algorithms for automatic detection of contaminated crime scenes.

A second secondment took place at the Cyprus Institute in the second half of the project to enable the ER to work alongside the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP) to access and learn how to use new tool and technologies and to apply the skills learnt within a real-life forensic environment relating to missing persons. This secondment enabled the ER to merge his pre-existing skills with newly acquired ones to maximise research results and outputs, and to broaden his network of forensic practitioners.

Post-processing took place after each field season and during the second secondment of data collected during the fieldwork described above. This resulted in the production of several reports which were shared with project participants (which included forensic practitioners), protocols and publications which were and are to be published in peer-reviewed journals. A series of algorithms, web-based visualisations and VR experiences were developed to facilitate the identification and visualisation of data to a variety of audiences.

Finally, a series of training opportunities were developed for practitioners which were trialled during the project and which can be replicated after the project's end date.
The Dig For-Arch project has made significant advances in the fields of forensic archaeology and forensic investigation by revolutionizing the ways in which crime scenes and sites of mass killings are recorded, interrogated and re-presented. This places the Experience Researcher (ER) at the forefront of these disciplines and further enhance the reputation of the host organization. Without this research, there would have remained a significant gap in knowledge and professional practice in Europe concerning sustainable recording practices. The project has resulted in the development and application of novel digital techniques resulting from case-study-based research in the UK, Cyprus, Poland and Ukraine. By utilising cutting-edge technologies and developing optimized workflows, the project focused and impacted upon key challenges in crime scene documentation in domestic and conflict environments. Contaminated crime scenes were first examined and recorded via photogrammetric methods, leading to the development of algorithms to detect automatically when evidence has been moved. Working with the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, the project team developed and implemented non-invasive airborne and terrestrial field survey methods to enhance the accuracy and speed of searches for missing persons. This work facilitated the development of new Standards and training relating to forensic archaeological search techniques. In order to enhance the accessibility of 3D data acquired from crime scenes, online web visualisation tools and VR platforms were developed in relation to multiple sites of socio-historic conflict, wildlife crime and domestic crime scenes. Via publications, workshops and training programmes the results of the project have been widely shared thus ensuring ongoing impact within the spheres of policing, forensic investigation and education.

The new field in which the ER has been working has and will continue to benefit from his extensive expertise and from the cross-sector/cross-disciplinary expertise of the wider project group. It has allowed the host organization and ER to engage in research with real-world impact, and to collaborate across Europe. In particular, it has offered the host organization the opportunity to benefit from the state- of-the-art techniques developed by the ER for use in further European research and consultancy work, and to engage in essential discussions concerning ethical approaches to the treatment of conflict sites.

This project was the first of its kind in Europe and in October 2016, the O2 Innovative Digital Applications Award was presented to the Digital Forensic Archaeology Project in recognition of its pilot-stage work and its potential impact on criminal investigations.
DIgital Forensic Archaeology team in Treblinka (Poland) for mass grave identification
Virtual Reality research features on CrimeWatch
Training at Staffordshire University - Forensic Archaeology Practical
Photogrammetric Documentation of archaeological layers 2
Photogrammetric Documentation of archaeological layers 1