The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

The Past is 3D: using spatial analysis in interpreting an enigmatic mass grave


1Institute of Archaeology, University College London, 2Department of Archaeology, Ege University

April 16, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

Mass graves present a unique challenge in physical anthropology. Their interpretation depends on reconstructing the deposition event(s) that created them-- but this can be very challenging where skeletal remains are commingled. Current computational approaches require non-commingled remains and utilise either traditional two-dimensional overlay techniques, or ad-hoc solutions for 3d mapping as simplified shapes. This paper puts forward a new methodology for reconstructing the deposition of the partially commingled remains of ~60 individuals in an approximately 2 by 3.3 meter mass grave from the Early Bronze Age I site of Başur Höyük on the Upper Tigris River. It combines anthropological assessment with novel spatial-analytical approach using broadly available software: 2d Geographic Information Systems (QGIS); 3d GIS (ArcScene); and 3d photogrammetry (PhotoScan Pro).

The results clearly demonstrate the utility of this spatial-analytical approach. We are able to interpret the mass grave as a single deposition event of primary burials over a very limited period of time. We reconstruct the sequence of deposition including events such as moving bodies to make more room, and even the physical act of flinging bodies into the pit by the persons burying them. This offers a potential new methodology for reconstructing mass death events in the past.

This project has received funding from the British Institute at Ankara and the Arts and Humanities Funding Council UK.

Slides/Poster (pdf)