U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Monitoring Controlled Graves Representing Common Burial Scenarios with Ground Penetrating Radar

NCJ Number
Journal of Applied Geophysics Volume: 83 Dated: 2012 Pages: 74-89
Date Published
16 pages

Since implementing controlled geophysical research is imperative for understanding the variables that affect detection of clandestine graves during real-life forensic searches, the current study focused on monitoring two empty control graves (shallow and deep) and six burials that contained a small pig carcass (Sus scrofa) representing different burial forensic scenarios.


The scenarios were a shallow buried naked carcass, a deep buried naked carcass, a deep buried carcass covered by a layer of rocks, a deep buried carcass covered by a layer of lime, a deep buried carcass wrapped in an impermeable tarpaulin, and a deep buried carcass wrapped in a cotton blanket. Multi-frequency, ground penetrating radar (GPR) data were collected monthly over a 12-month monitoring period. The research site was a cleared field within a wooded area in a humid subtropical environment, and the soil consisted of a Spodosol, a common soil type in Florida. The study compared 2D GPR reflection profiles and horizontal time slices obtained with both 250 and 500 MHz dominant frequency antennae to determine the utility of both antennae for grave detection in this environment over time. Overall, a combination of both antennae frequencies provided optimal detection of the targets. Better images were noted for deep graves, compared to shallow graves. The 250 MHz antenna provided better images for detecting deep graves, as less non-target anomalies were produced with lower radar frequencies. The 250 MHz antenna also provided better images detecting the disturbed ground. Conversely, the 500 MHz antenna provided better images when detecting the shallow pig grave. The graves that contained a pig carcass with associated grave items provided the best results, particularly for the carcass covered with rocks and the carcass wrapped in a tarpaulin. Finally, during periods of increased soil moisture levels, there was increased detection of graves, which was most likely related to conductive decompositional fluid from the carcasses. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2012