This call comes in to almost all police departments at some time: "I stumbled across some bones. I think you might want to check it out."
The officer dispatched to the scene should assume the bones are human, there are more bodies buried, and should collect evidence accordingly.
But unless the officer is an expert in human osteology, he must be very careful how the bones are handled. If there is no danger of damage from the environment, the officer should leave everything intact and call in a forensic recovery expert.
What the officer should do is immediately set up a perimeter. Though the area within that perimeter may be completely wrong — if the area turns out to be a multiple body dump site — at least there is a starting point. An agency should also post a guard at the site until forensic recovery experts arrive.
Though not directly involved in the recovery effort, however, it is imperative that all officers have a basic understanding of bone collection and what types of information can be gleaned from them bones.Documentation and removal
Every scene involves different circumstances and requires modified approaches of documentation and removal, note Tim White and Pieter Arend Folkens in The Human Bone Manual. The authors point out remains may be located in a number of ways, including mechanical means, such as remote sensing, sonar, radar, heat sensing and aerial photography; or via physical efforts, such as the use of scent dogs, divers or search and rescue teams.
Once the skeletal remains are found, recovery experts must determine whether the bones are scattered across the surface or buried in a relatively intact state.
Scattered surface remains can be documented as a sketch using stationary objects as landmarks or, if in a relatively small area, a grid can be created with string, according to Foothills Search and Rescue (SAR) society in Alberta, Canada. Foothills SAR reports that scattered surface remains can be marked with flags or other visible markers and added to the sketch or grid before removal.
Buried remains require a different collection procedure. The same grid is used but bone removal becomes more complicated. The recovery specialist removes earth around the burial with a series of shovels and trowels in descending size as he or she nears the actual bones. Brushes are used in the final stages of exposing the remains. The examiner then photographs the bones with an indicator of size and orientation in the picture.
Next, the removal process proceeds in two ways. The bones can be removed one by one and packaged separately with labeling indicating the type of bone and the side of the body it came from. But if an inspection of the pelvic region indicates the presence of fetal remains, or if the bones appear to be from a child, then another method should be employed. Juvenile and fetal remains contain many tiny bones that have not yet fused with others and are easily lost in the soil. Here, it is advisable to utilize a method employed by paleontologists to remove fragile dinosaur bones. In this process, White and Folken explain the bones are exposed, then a pedestal of earth is made by excavating around them. Wet paper towel is draped over the remains, which are then wrapped in burlap. Later the bones are coated in plaster. As the plaster dries, the remaining bottom sections are encased and the entire burial is transported to the lab as a whole. Even when using the paleontologist method, the surrounding area should be processed using a series of ever-diminishing screen sizes to check for small bones and other evidence such as vestiges of clothing.Are the bones human?
A forensic osteologist can examine recovered bones for clues to determine if the remains are human; how long the person has been dead; the victim's age, sex, height, racial affiliation, and more.