Exhumation of a virtual mass grave

I had the fantastic opportunity recently to view the exhumation of a virtual mass grave at Cranfield University.

The opportunity came about after a meeting with Nicholas Marguez Grant to discuss the work I created for ‘Latent’. Nicholas works at Cranfield University as Lecturer in Forensic Anthropology with Roland Wessling who is Lecturer in Forensic Archaeology & Anthropology. Nicholas mentioned that Roland runs an annual module, for Masters forensic anthropology students. This module aims to give these students the experience of exhuming a mass grave in advance of a real one.

At least 6 months in advance plastic skeletons are buried in a pit within woodland within the grounds of Cranfield University, Shrivenham. Roland sets a series of stories and scenarios that the students need to discover and interpret within the placement of each skeleton. Tied hands, blindfolds and position can help to tell the story of what happened.

When I arrived, very little had been uncovered but the graves had been plotted and excavation had been started. It was fascinating to see the process of the work and I had the opportunity to talk to a few of the students.

Roland was very generous with his time and I had a long and fascinating conversation with him about the work he did exhuming graves in Bosnia. A fantastic insight with anecdotes and knowledge that it simply wouldn’t be possible to discover in books.

I have been particularly interested in the use of fabric and clothing to identify individuals within mass graves in Bosnia, but whilst talking with Roland he started to explain that during the trials similarities between the fabrics used for blindfolds and ligatures became apparent. These similarities helped to show that the atrocities had been organized and therefore constituted genocide rather than mass murder.

This nugget of information is enormously exciting for me and something I am now keen to try and research. I want to try and source visual imagery and descriptions of these blindfolds and ligatures.

Roland has kindly agreed to send me a transcript of the trial of Radislav Krstic which is where these discoveries were initially mentioned.

This day has been an amazing opportunity and an experience that has allowed me huge insights.