Police and archaeologists join forces in forensic class

June 7, 1996

Police officers and archaeologists will be classmates on a new postgraduate course at Bourne- mouth University.

The school of conservation sciences is launching a course in forensic archaeology to help each profession understand each other better.

Margaret Cox, who will lead the two-year, part-time course when it starts in October, said: "We are all detectives trying to understand what happened in the past. Their past is more recent than ours but the basic principles are the same. We both take fragments from the ground and have to try to understand the context, whether it is the Bronze Age or six months ago."

The police are increasingly aware of the help that archaeologists can give them when investigating the burial of bodies or property. Dr Cox helped Wiltshire Constabulary with the Joan Main murder inquiry. The dead woman had been missing for 20 years and was discovered in an oil drum in a Swindon garden. Her husband was convicted of her murder.

Among the techniques which archaeologists can pass on is stratigraphy, the sequence of deposits, which can be vital in gathering evidence.

"Understanding the strati- graphy is crucial to dating when things happened. Every sequence of events in the past, natural or human leaves a layer of deposits. For example, you may find a crisp packet when digging at a grave, and the serial batch number can be dated.

"In the Joan Main case we found a Marks and Spencer shoe and M&S gave the police a date when the shoe was on sale.

"In the past, the police just dug down until they found something and what they dug through was destroyed," said Dr Cox.

But one force which ignored archaeologists was Gloucestershire, when it searched for bodies at Cromwell Street.

Dr Cox said: "I was surprised they didn't ask. Heavy-handed police officers with hob-nailed boots just went in; how much evidence was lost I don't know. They got a successful result and found lots of victims. I suspect there may be more around."

The course has 25 places and leads to an MSc. So far two-thirds of the applicants have been police officers.

As well as scientific techniques, the course will also give archaeologists a grounding in the judicial system, court room and witness skills.

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