What is Forensic Archaeology?
Forensic Archeology is the application of the archaeological methods and techniques such as excavation, documentation, and interpretation, to human remains that are found in suspicious and unusual circumstances. Forensic archaeology can be used in criminal cases, cold cases, missing persons cases, and at disaster scenes. Forensic archaeologists help recover remains and evidence but are equally interested in interpreting the activity and processes that took place at the scene – not just what was left behind.
What is FAR?
FAR (Forensic Archaeology Recovery) is a non-profit organization that enlists trained archaeologists to respond to large scale disaster scenes at the behest of law enforcement or other investigative agencies. FAR members are also available to work in the investigation and recovery of unfound persons where considerable time has passed since disappearance.
What does FAR do?
FAR members work as part of the investigative and/or response team. Their actions are under the direction of the agency in charge of the response framework. FAR members will only be deployed at the request of the governing law enforcement agency. Duties of FAR team members include documentation of the scene, search and recovery of human remains and evidence, excavation of clandestine graves, and site interpretation. Expert witness statements and expert testimony can also be provided.
Who are the FAR members?
FAR is entirely made up of volunteers, mostly from the professional archaeology community. Members engaged in field activities have all received training in forensic evidence packaging, chain of custody, and the completion of forensic paperwork. FAR members are required to complete FEMA training in deployment and Incident command protocols. FAR also accepts volunteers willing to help with administration, public relations,and finance.
How did FAR form?
As a direct response to the World Trade Center disaster of September 11, 2001, Dr. Richard Gould organized FAR in 2001. Initially his vision was to use archaeological and scientific skills to assist in the recovery of human remains in order to help the families and friends of mass-casualty disaster victims achieve some sense of closure.
In order to prove archaeology as a viable method of use in the location, recording, and recovery of human remains, personal effects, and other materials of importance, on March 1, 2002, Dr. Gould led a small group of volunteers on a forensic recovery exercise 7 blocks from ground zero in New York. This exercise was at the approval of the Chief Medical Examiner. The excavation yielded a number of items from the World Trade Center towers as well as some miniscule remains that had gone unnoticed by the official WTC clean-up.
Upon returning to Rhode Island, Dr. Gould created a group of volunteers that would go on to train with Providence Police and Fire departments along with numerous other first responders and disaster response experts, including agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. A variety of realistic field exercises were developed training FAR members for both land and underwater situations. He also developed a working relationship with the Rhode Island Medical Examiners’ Office, and the State Crime Lab, and established, Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) with the Rhode Island Salvation Army and Society for American Archaeology (SAA) in order to ensure compliance with existing legal authorities, and increase FAR’s membership nationwide. With protocols in place and associations established, FAR received its 501C3 status as a non-profit, strictly volunteer organization.
On February 20, 2003, “The Station” nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island became the largest fire in Rhode Island history killing 100 and injuring an additional 200. This was the first time FAR was officially activated as a group, this by invitation of the State Fire Marshal’s office. Soon after the beginning of the recovery, FAR was tasked by the Fire Marshall to locate and document materials and possible evidence that could be used in court in the eventuality of a criminal investigation.
Although never forgetting its original mission of assisting in the repatriation of human remains and personal effects to aid the families and friends of victims, it was now apparent that FAR could also become a valuable asset in providing assistance in criminal investigations. To this end, individual FAR members have worked with other forensic organizations including RCLO Mass Grave Investigation Team in Iraq, the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DEMORT) for recovery operations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina), and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), recovering the remains of fallen service personnel.
In 2009, Dr. Gould retired, naming Dr. Ann Marie Mires as the new director. Under her leadership, FAR has now taken on an additional role of assisting in the investigation of missing persons, focusing on lost children and the elderly.
FAR will always be available to assist any federal, state, or local agency in the event of a natural, man-made or any other type of mass casualty event, but FAR’s new role has opened a wide range of possibilities for assisting victims and their families while still conforming to its original mission.
How is FAR structured?
FAR structured in regional chapters with the national headquarters located in Rhode Island. Currently chapters are located in California, Greater Philadelphia with further chapters in development. Chapters consist of a chapter head who is responsible for establishing relationships with local agencies and ensuring chapter members receive adequate training. Larger chapters divide administrative roles and duties among members as appropriate.
How can I get involved?
If you would like to get involved, please click on the Membership link to join FAR. Alternatively, click on the Donate link if you would be interested in financially donating to the FAR mission. Donations support travel of FAR members to scenes and provide field equipment. Donations and membership dues are tax deductible. If you have further questions or if you require assistance from FAR, please Contact Us.