Ben Thornes

MSc Students excavate simulated mass war graves in Dorset

Wednesday 16th July 2014

Around 30 students from the MSc Forensic Osteology and MSc Forensic Archaeology courses spent a week on the Trigon Estate, near Wareham. The practical exercise involved students working together to locate and excavate simulated mass graves from World War One, using the latest technology and techniques.

Inside the graves were artificial skeletons, complete with artefacts which would have survived in real WWI mass graves, such as weapons, coins, buttons and personal effects – including photos preserved inside cigarette tins.

Dr Martin Smith, Senior Lecturer in Anthropology helped to co-ordinate the simulation. He commented, “It’s a really nice exercise that we do that pulls together everything the students have been doing throughout the year.”

“The anthropologists have learnt lots of theory about the anatomy of the body and how we can interpret types of trauma and disease, how we can tell age and sex and so on; the archaeologists have done all sorts of work on how we can find buried remains and how we can excavate them in a controlled and scientific manner. This allows us to get them to work together as a team, pull together everything that they have done and put it into practice.”

He went on to explain that although it is an artificial exercise, it was carefully planned so that students would gain important experience of correct processes and making sure work was carried out in a planned and controlled manner. As well as putting the theory and specialist skills that they have learnt into practise, students also got a taste of how it is to work alongside each other in the field – just as they will be required to do in a professional capacity.

The field experience was followed by extensive work back in the labs; artificial skeletons were replaced with real ones, and students used the evidence they found through excavating the graves to write a report, trying to identify the soldiers and how they died. They then had the chance to practise presenting their findings, at a mock war graves commission.

This article was originally printed in the latest edition of BU & Beyond which can be viewed here.

Bournemouth University is the only institution in the world which offers this kind of experience as a built in part of a Masters course. Find out more about our postgraduate study options here.

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