Forensic Archaeology and the Use of Data Paradigms in the Search for Missing Victims of
Dr N. McCullagh, MCSFS MIAI, Forensic Archaeologist
The remit of Forensic Archaeology lies increasingly in the provision of search advice in long term missing
persons cases, especially those where a crime is suspected and the victim’s body is presumed to have been
concealed. Forensic Archaeologists can provide a unique perspective in the interpretation of human
behaviour in a given landscape and what the most appropriate tools are to inspect that landscape to increase
the likelihood of locating human remains. The central argument of this presentation is that while new
technologies may have the capacity to contribute to such searches, so-called “soft” technologies, particularly
data analysis still have a major contribution to make to such work.
This presentation will briefly introduce how and why forensic archaeology is used in the review of cold cases
and how this field has contributed to criminal investigations. The central focus of the presentation will be the
recent research conducted in Ireland that involved the collection and analysis of data from cases involving
body disposal. This has shown that there are social features, such as age and gender of the victims, that
appear to have a direct impact on the location chosen and the distances travelled by offenders in the disposal
of the body of a victim.
The primary goal of this research is to improve on the search practices for missing people who are believed to
have come to harm and to do this through the extension of the forensic archaeological search approach to
include statistics on homicides. This research is based on the theory that the analysis of primary data in
relation to previous cases will contribute to the development of a decision support system to be used in the
early stages of the search and investigation process. This data based approach has the potential to
significantly improve upon the current methods by which we search for missing persons and thus increase
the number of missing homicide victims who are found and enhance the associated evidence that can lead to
Dr Niamh McCullagh is an independent consultant Forensic Archaeologist specialising in the search, location
and recovery of human remains in a forensic context. Dr McCullagh has 20 years’ experience as an
archaeologist and 14 years’ experience as a specialist practising forensic archaeology. Her work and research
focus on homicide in Ireland and on improving the search for the remains of homicide victims that have been
disposed of in a clandestine manner. She has worked nationally and internationally on both current and
historic cases and she also provides input to training capacity for Forensic Archaeologists.
Her current and previous roles include; Senior Forensic Archaeologist to the Independent Commission for the
Location of Victims Remains, Forensic Archaeologist to the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of
Investigation and the provision of assistance to An Garda Síochána in the investigation of criminal homicide
cases. At the request of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in Ireland she directed a technical group
to advise on the excavation the remains of infants from the Children’s Burial Ground at Tuam Mother and
Baby Home. This work has resulted in the drafting of new legislation regarding burials excavation in Ireland.
Dr McCullagh has a BA and an MA in Archaeology (University College Cork), an MSc in Forensic Archaeology
and Crime Scene Investigation (Bradford University) and a PhD focussed on Forensic Archaeology (Queens
University Belfast). She has qualifications in the delivery of Expert Witness testimony and has also published a
number of papers in relation to her specialism. She is a Professional Member of the Chartered Society of
Forensic Sciences, member of the Institute of Archaeologists in Ireland and is recognised as an Expert Witness
in Ireland and the UK.