Four teams of canines and their handlers from the Institute of Canine Forensics in Woodside, Calif., joined Carrie Baxter, an archaeologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers- Engineer Research and Development Center of Champaign, Ill., in search of alleged graves in several areas, particularly training areas, on post.
“Our mission is to help research new techniques to assist the Army in managing properties and Army installations,” said Baxter. “We want to help the Army to do this by using better, cheaper, and faster methods. Today, [Nov. 14], we are using various techniques to discover lost cemeteries. There are no headstones marking these graves. Many are located in wooded areas.”
“We have used these techniques in the past to help Native American tribes find Native American graves,” she added. “In 2009, I worked on a project at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in locating Native American grave sites. Federal law prohibits digging up human remains to verify that they are buried at a particularly gravesites and it’s not something we would want to do either.”
Baxter returned to Fort Gordon this November with the canine teams through a grant offered by the Department of Defense Legacy Resource Management program to examine the same areas she tested three years ago. Back in 2010 the Fort Gordon garrison invited the archaeologist to the post to conduct several geological survey tests at various sites on the installation which were believed to be alleged graves often of a family cemetery. At the time she used ground-penetrating radar, the electrical resistivity method, and a global positioning system.
This study enables Baxter to conduct a field trial in a more controlled situation. “We tested the dogs against more traditional geophysical survey techniques in locating alleged graves,” Baxter said.”The specifically trained dogs are an additional tool that can be layered to collaborate with other methods of detection.”
The first layer of information often is an oral history which would indicate there was a possible family cemetery on a site.
“The archaeologist physically looks at the ground to find out what is going on,” said Adla Morris, one of the ICF dog handlers involved in the project. “Baxter’s instruments will show abnormalities which looks like grave shafts. Dogs will go freely into the site and use his nose to detect decomposing human bone, which is yet another layer of evidence to collaborate with other methods of detection.”
The dog will either do a sit or lie down alert indicating human remains are buried in the ground. The dog handler will then place a pin flag at the location. Baxter will enter the area after the canine and dog handler finishes marking the area. She will use a GPS to obtain a reading from each locations pointed out by the dog.
The pin flags are removed and another detection team will enter and complete another search. This continues until all four teams have had an opportunity to explore and mark the area. In Training Area 37A, there are pieces of red brick laying on the ground at two or three of the markings, another layer of information indicating a possible lost cemetery, Baxter pointed out.
“The purpose of this program is to mark and protect the area where there are unmarked, alleged graves, said Renee Lewis, a culture resource specialist at Fort Gordon.
“Because we have good evidence that it is a [family] cemetery in TA 37 we will not allow it to be dug up or disturbed,” said Rob Drumm, chief of the Fort Gordon Natural Resource branch. “At present there are posted signs labeled, ‘Off Limits to Training’ and perimeter flags up around the area.”
“We will also corridor the area off and build a fire breaker road around the alleged graves to protect them from training in that area and any future construction. In the place of the perimeter flags we will put up wooden posts to mark the area.”
Baxter expects to compare the findings with the geophysical survey techniques she collected three years ago and submit the results to the DoD Legacy program by the end of March 2014 The findings may further prove how effective detection dogs are at finding human remains in unmarked graves.
For more information about the use of historical human remains detection canines in the location of historical human remains, visit www.K9Forensics.org.