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Methodology issues of forensic excavations at coastal sites: The Cyprus (Committee on the Missing Persons in Cyprus) experience.


Abstract and Figures

The Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP) is a bi-communal body established in 1981 by the leaders of the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities with the participation of the United Nations. The objective of CMP is to recover, identify and return to their families the remains of 2001 missing persons from the inter-communal fighting of 1963-64 and the events of 1974. So far, the remains of 969 individuals have been exhumed, 458 Greek-Cypriots and 145 Turkish-Cypriots have been identified . With an area of 9,251 square kilometres, Cyprus is the Mediterranean’s third largest island. The diversity of the island’s coastal geomorphology is a direct result of the island’s geological formation, the weather conditions and other hydrological factors. This diversity is visible when comparing the coastal area island-wide; thus, it can be also observed in the forensic coastal sites that have been investigated so far by the Bi-Communal Forensic Team (BCFT) of archaeologists. Since 2006, the BCFT archaeologists have excavated more than 900 sites across the island. The forensic coastal sites are particularly challenging in terms of geological and environmental conditions, weather and hydrological factors. Consequently, the taphonomic processes are distinct and require a specific forensic approach. The excavation and exhumation methodology processes that have been applied by the BCFT archaeologists at coastal sites are differentiated as to those applied in other types of sites in Cyprus. In this presentation, the challenges of coastal excavations are presented and explained, with special focus on the exhumation process of skeletal remains in such cases. Moreover, it is discussed how those challenges affect the overall operations before, during and after an excavation, and especially an exhumation. Based on current scientific literature and forensic practices applied by internationally renowned organisations, the authors will propose more preferable techniques to be employed at coastal sites. Accordingly, the combination of standard archaeological practice and the forensic experience via the CMP programme are necessary to carry out and develop interdisciplinary methods of coastal excavations.
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Editor in ChiEf
John Bintliff (Edinburgh University, UK and Leiden University, The Netherlands)
Editorial Board
Judith Barringer (Edinburgh University, UK)
Jim Crow (Edinburgh University, UK)
Andrew Erskine (Edinburgh University, UK)
Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones (Cardiff University, UK)
Ben Russell (Edinburgh University, UK)
Keith Rutter (Edinburgh University, UK)
Oscar Belvedere (University of Palermo, Italy)
Johannes Bergemann (Gottingen University,
Ioanna Bitha (Research Centre for Byzantine
and Postbyzantine Art of the Academy of Athens,
Franco D ‘Andria (University of Lecce, Italy)
Jack Davis (University of Cincinnati, USA)
Franco de Angelis (University of British Columbia,
Jan Driessen (University of Louvain, Belgium and
Belgian School in Athens, Greece)
Sylvian Fachard (Université de Genève, Switzerland)
Nena Galanidou (University of Crete, Rethymno,
Chrysanthi Gallou (Centre for Spartan and
Peloponnesian Studies, University of Nottingham, UK)
Lita Gregory (Australian Institute, Athens)
Timothy Gregory (Ohio State University, USA)
John Haldon (Princeton University, USA)
Konstantinos Kopanias (University of Athens,
Branko Kirigin (Archaeological Museum, Split,
Kostas Kotsakis (University of Thessaloniki, Greece)
Franziska Lang (Technical University Darmstadt,
Irene Lemos (Oxford University, UK)
Maria Mouliou (University of Athens, Greece)
Robin Osborne (Cambridge University, UK)
Giorgos Papantoniou (University of Cyprus and
Bonn University)
Athanasios Rizakis (Institute of Greek and Roman
Antiquity, Athens, Greece)
Jeremy Rutter (Dartmouth College, USA)
Guy Sanders (American School of Classical Studies,
Athens, Greece)
Susan Sherratt (Sheffield University, UK)
Andrew Stewart (University of California Berkeley,
Gocha Tsetskhladze (University of Melbourne,
Tania Valamoti (University of Thessaloniki, Greece)
Athanasios Vionis (University of Cyprus, Nicosia,
Editorial advisory Board
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Journal of Greek Archaeology 1 (2016): 385–402
Methodology issues of forensic excavations at coastal sites
The Cyprus (Committee on the Missing Persons in Cyprus) experience.*
Maria Ktoria,b
Cardiff University
E-mail: /
Noly Moyssib
University of Cyprus
Deniz Kahramanb
University of Wales, Lampeter
Evren Korkmazb
Eastern Mediterranean University
aThermopylon street, Flat 201, 2102 Aglantzia, Cyprus. Phone no.: +35796348947
bCommittee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, Ledra Palace Hotel, P.O. Box 21642, 1590 Nicosia, Cyprus
Introduction: The Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP)
In 1981, the talks between the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders resulted in the establishment
of the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP),1 as a tripartite bi-communal committee
taking decisions on the basis of consensus.2 It is comprised of three Members, representing the Greek
Cypriot community, the Turkish Cypriot community, while the Third Member is nominated by the
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and appointed by the United Nations Secretary-
The project is bi-communal, with teams of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot scientists involved
at every stage of the identification process. The CMP’s objective is to recover, identify, and return
to their families, the remains of 2001 persons (493 Turkish Cypriots and 1508 Greek Cypriots) who
went missing during the inter-communal fighting of 1963 to 1964 and the events of 1974. Until
today, the remains of a minimum number of 10643 individuals were exhumed through the Project
on the Exhumation, Identification and Return of Remains of Missing Persons of the Committee on
Missing Persons in Cyprus (Figure 1a–b and 2a–b).4 As most Cypriot families have been directly or
indirectly affected by the 1963–64 and 1974 events, it is hoped that through the project, old wounds
will heal and the reconciliation process will strengthen.
Since 2006, the Bi-Communal Forensic Team (BCFT) of archaeologists has excavated more than
1000 sites across the island (Figure 3). The coastal forensic sites are particularly challenging in terms
of geological and environmental conditions, weather and hydrogeological factors. Consequently, the
distinct taphonomic processes require a specific forensic approach.
* Presented in part at the 7th European Academy of Forensic Sciences Conference, 6–11 September 2015, in Prague, Czech Republic. The
views expressed in this text are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus.
United Nations 1981: 192.
Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, 2014.
The numbers refer to the progress of analyses at the time of writing this article. Please refer to the official website for the latest progress,
Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, 2016.
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maria ktori, Noly moyssi, dENiz kahramaN aNd EVrEN korkmaz
Before proceeding to data analysis, one should first explain the research methodology. All the sites
are classified according to the six Cyprus Administrative Divisions (Districts): Kyrenia, Nicosia,
Famagusta, Larnaca, Limassol and Paphos. This was maintained throughout the data analysis to avoid
any distortion. The statistical analysis of the excavation data reflects the coastal geomorphological
conditions, while the forensic archaeological approach reflects the challenges faced. All sites are
Maria Ktori, Noly Moyssi, Deniz Kahraman and Evren Korkmaz
Figure 1a–b. Statistics on the exhumations and identifications in 2006–2016 (a); the total number and percentage of Greek
Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot missing persons per year (b) (Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, 2016: 1).
Figure 2a–b. Statistics on the percentage of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot identified (Committee on Missing Persons in
Cyprus, 2016: 1).
Figure 3. The excavated sites by the BCFT until December 2015 on a Google Earth interface.
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mEthodoloGy issuEs of forENsiC ExCaVatioNs at Coastal sitEs
further divided into those ‘with’ and ‘without’ remains, which means that not all forensic investigations
result in the retrieval of human remains.
The forensic sites are categorised: a) open field, b) well, c) hill, d) mountain, e) ravine, f) river, g)
other. This article examines the types encountered in coastal areas: a) well, b) open field, c) hill, d)
other (sea cave). From those, wells require a different excavation procedure due to their depth: the
removal of one side of the well shaft, the construction of an access ramp and a depository platform
next to the well (to deposit the fill to be checked) are all standard procedures. As the excavation
method is different, the authors excluded coastal wells from the sample, being actually a sub-
category of this site type. The other three categories have a common excavation methodology and
the proposed improvements can be easily applied to all. The sites are also classified further into those
where human remains are encountered (thus, a forensic exhumation is performed), and those without
human remains.
The authors integrated in their approach the specific geomorphological conditions of the Cypriot
coastline. They affect the taphonomy, the overall operations before, during and after an excavation/
exhumation, and especially the condition of the finds. Therefore, the authors have revised the current
archaeological practices for such cases based on current trends in Forensic and Coastal Archaeology
and the environmental conditions of the Cypriot coastline.
Finally, these cases are presented within the overall forensic excavations and exhumations that
have been carried out, to contextualise them within the identification process. It is also necessary to
juxtapose the CMP project with others, as they are fundamentally different. The main difference, its
humanitarian nature, defined it from its inception until today and is embedded in all operations which
will be explained further.
The Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus: a humanitarian forensic programme
in context
During its long history, humanity has witnessed numerous conflicts and wars with a consensus that the
two World Wars have been the worst to date. Their magnitude and impact was evident in every aspect:
Figure 4. The excavated coastal sites by the BCFT until December 2015 on a Google Earth interface.
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maria ktori, Noly moyssi, dENiz kahramaN aNd EVrEN korkmaz
their global nature, the number of victims, the atrocities committed, the violation of human rights,
international law and the laws of war. At the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference, the Commission on
the Responsibility of the Authors of the War and on Enforcement of Penalties became the first body to
investigate war crimes. The Commission recommended the establishment of an international tribunal
for war crimes, a recommendation that was only passed after the Second World War.
Conflicts continued to occur and crimes against humanity were still committed, resulting in the
unavoidable establishment of bodies such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), the International
Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and the International Criminal Tribunal for
Rwanda (ICTR). Enforced disappearances only became a fully recognised crime against humanity
in 2002,5 and the UN resolutions define what everyone knows as missing persons.
As Kirschner and Hannibal correctly note, until the mid-1980s, human rights violations had
been documented through testimonies.6 In 1984–85, the investigation of human rights violations
converged with forensic anthropology for the first time, to provide answers and evidence to the
newly-established National Commission on Disappeared Persons in Argentina.7 Clyde Snow
assembled a team of young scientists and trained them, culminating in the Equipo Argentino de
Antropología Forense (EAAF, Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team).8 This was a turning point for
both fields: the positive influence of forensic anthropology on human rights investigations increased
international awareness and led to the formation of several other forensic investigation teams: the
Physician for Human Rights (1986),9 Grupo de Antropologos Forenses (GAP, Group of Forensic
Anthropologists in Chile, 1989),10 Fundación de Antropología Forense de Guatemala (FAFG,
Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation, 1992–1997),11 Equipo Peruviano de Antropología
Forense (EAAF, Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team, 2001),12 and the International Commission
on Missing Persons (ICMP, 1996).13
The formation of the first international teams, EAAF and PHR was also critical to the subsequent
developments in the field of Human Rights Investigations. The participation of forensic experts in
such investigations provided the necessary medico-legal and forensic evidence that could enable
the prosecution of perpetrators, a need that remains undiminished.14 Cordner and McKelvie further
comment that the establishment of reliable documents for litigation purposes does not diminish the
humanitarian dimension of the matter, i.e. the need of the families of the missing to obtain answers.
As the United Nations (UN) became actively involved in the process, they adopted the Principles
on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions
in 1989. The Principles were further supported by the Manual on the Effective Prevention and
Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, where the identification of the
missing is an integral part of the process rather than a simple result.15 The Manual also puts forth a
series of protocols which are necessary in legalising and legitimising the participation of forensic
experts in Human Rights Investigations. In the early 1990s, a series of resolutions was passed by
the UN Commission for Human Rights (UNCHR), and two International Criminal Tribunals (ICT)
were established for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. The forensic investigations carried out
had distinct legal purposes as the Tribunals were addressing grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva
Conventions, genocide and crimes against humanity amongst others.
United Nations 1978: 158; United Nations, 1992; United Nations, 1998: Rome Statute Article 7, 1. (i).
Kirschner and Hannibal 1994: 451–453.
Cordner and McKelvie 2002: 868.
Doretti and Snow 2008: 305.
Physicians for Human Rights, 2016.
Padilla and Reveco, 2004.
Steadman and Haglund 2005: 25–30.
Equipo Peruano de Antropología Forense – EPAF, 2016.
International Commission on Missing Persons, 2014; Huffine et al. 2001.
Cordner and McKelvie 2002: 869.
Ibid: 871.
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mEthodoloGy issuEs of forENsiC ExCaVatioNs at Coastal sitEs
Apart from the formation of forensic teams and the establishment of international protocols, one
should also address another issue: the nature of the investigation. As described above, forensic
investigations can be conducted for legal or humanitarian purposes. Legal purposes clearly refer to
the violation of legal and human rights and the subsequent prosecution of the offender, as delineated
by international legislation. Conversely, humanitarian purposes refer to the humane dimension of
the problem, i.e. the identification of the missing and the return of the remains to the family. This
is directly related to the psychological and emotional stress the families undergo until the matter is
resolved, and affects the healing of historical trauma.
Although CMP was established in 1981, it remained inactive for 25 years. The first formal operations
began in 2006, with the appointment of the Third Member by the UN Secretary-General and the
signing of a set of principles by the Greek-Cypriot and the Turkish-Cypriot Members. Immediately
after the agreement, the EAAF was requested to assist the initiative. The EAAF experts coordinated
and trained the BCFT of scientists in 2006–2008, and monitored their progress closely. Until 2010,
the EAAF performed assessments to address any rising challenges and reinforce the internal quality
control system. They remain one of the key partners of CMP and continue making advisory visits
whenever necessary.
As previously discussed, the BCFT operations clearly reflect the input and design of the EAAF
experts, following the Latin American model of forensic investigations. However, they do not reflect
the legal purposes of the forensic investigations carried out by EAAF. The CMP mandate states in
Article 11, that the project has absolutely humanitarian purposes: The committee will not attempt to
attribute responsibility for the deaths of any missing persons or make findings as to the cause of such
deaths.16 The identification process remains rigorous, in an effort to maximise the efficiency of the
available data, witness information and resources.17
The missing, a direct effect of an armed conflict, have multiple effects. Their families undergo an
intensely traumatic experience, full of uncertainty, doubt regarding what has transpired, and distress.
This phenomenon persists, and the relatives replay the events that transpired until their loved one’s
disappearance.18 In Cyprus, this uncertainty has affected the society and imposed significant stress in
the peace building and reconciliation process. The demand for answers became particularly apparent
in 1998, when two Greek-Cypriot women took matters into their hands and tried to open a collective
grave in a military cemetery in Nicosia. Of course, this was not only a demand for answers, it was a
demand for the return of the bodies of the missing, for proper burial rites to be performed, for the souls
to rest in peace.19 Over the past decade, the CMP has strived to locate the missing, provide answers
and return the remains to the families. The BCFT has exhumed a little more than 50% of the total
number of missing persons, which sheds light on a highly politicised matter since the two periods
of conflict. The forensic investigations have evolved beyond their humanitarian purpose and gained
a distinct socio-anthropological and socio-archaeological character, which gives the programme its
unique characteristics as a vehicle of bi-communal reconciliation.
The CMP identification procedure
The identification procedure as carried out by the CMP is very disciplined and demanding, and divided
in phases: a) the ante-mortem data collection process, b) collection of information from witnesses in
combination with other, mostly archival sources, c) archaeological phase, d) anthropological phase, e)
genetic phase, f) identification and return of the remains. Every phase is regulated by the appropriate
guidelines, namely the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s), based on international standards
Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, 2014.
Moyssi, Ktori and Vehit, in press.
Sant Cassia 2005: 52–53.
Ibid: 1–3, 15–16.
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maria ktori, Noly moyssi, dENiz kahramaN aNd EVrEN korkmaz
for the multidisciplinary process of recovering and identifying human remains and modulated by
scientific literature.
The collection of witness information is always connected to the archaeological phase; a forensic
archaeological investigation can only be carried out once the necessary information has been compiled
by the investigators. Given the landscape alterations over the years, an investigator and the witness
visit the possible burial place along with the BCFT of archaeologists to help their initial assessment
of the site. Once the information has been assessed and juxtaposed with the information provided by
the landowner, the team processes the site following archaeological methods of the highest standard
possible, as described in other international cases.20 Although there are different types of sites (e.g.
open field, wells), the archaeologists work methodically to collect as much contextual information
as possible in every stage of the investigation.21 The applied methodology allows for the excavation
reconstruction in a report, resulting in what Haglund and Sorg refer to as biogeographic context.22
Neumann, Sanford & Harry have stressed that the environmental background offers the necessary
temporal-environmental context for an area, whereas the soil morphology can determine the applied
field techniques.23
As per the CMP SOP Manual, the process begins with the initial documentation of a site, including
the establishment of the perimeter of the search area, recording of fixed reference points and
their azimuths, and taking pre-excavation photographs. The team then proceeds with an intensive
pedestrian survey, with at least four people walking systematically across the landscape spaced
approximately 2m apart. The team can choose between the linear or grid search according to the
terrain,24 and the survey methods are equally applied to all, including coastal. The team makes a
physical reconnaissance of the terrain under investigation, having in mind the possible taphonomic
considerations that influenced the selection of the burial at the time.25 They also try to reconstruct the
landscape that existed and compare it to the present situation, juxtaposed with the available aerial
photographs and topographical maps,26 as per standard archaeological methodology.27
Once the survey is concluded the team investigates the area via controlled mechanical-aided
excavation.28 When human remains are encountered, the team proceeds with the manual excavation
of the grave, using standard archaeological techniques. Preserving the integrity of the stratigraphy and
environmental context of the burial during the exhumation are key elements in the entire process.29
The exhumation is conducted in layers, employing the open-area excavation method according to
archaeological and forensic standards.30 The documentation of the finds is extremely important,
as the various taphonomic agents are considered during the anthropological investigation of the
remains that have been retrieved.31 Taphonomy, a term first used by the palaeontologist Efremov,32
is considered as one of the key developments of the last 25 years in forensic anthropology.33
General concepts such as bone fossilisation, degree of preservation and reconstruction of the burial
environment are present in both palaeontology and forensic archaeology, an analogy that was
observed by forensic anthropologists in the 1980s and has since revolutionised the field.34 In the
Cheetham et al. 2008: 184.
Dirkmaat and Adovasio 1997: 39.
Haglund and Sorg 2002: 16–17.
Neumann, Sanford and Harry 2010: 34.
Dupras et al. 2012: 84–88; Pokines and Baker 2014: 449–452; Renfrew and Bahn 2012: 76–78.
Wilkinson 2006: 336; Mikellide, 2014.
Ibid: 337.
Berglund, 1988; Gaffney, Bintliff, and Slapsak, 1991.
Dupras et al. 2012: 111–113; Killam 2004: 63–64.
Hochrein 2002: 48, 63.
Renfrew and Bahn 2012: 104–106, 110; Hochrein 2002: 63; Dupras et al. 2012: 208–224.
Hochrein 2002: 47.
Efremov 1940: 81–93.
Dirkmaat et al. 2008: 37.
Dirkmaat and Passalacqua 2012: 474.
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mEthodoloGy issuEs of forENsiC ExCaVatioNs at Coastal sitEs
forensic context, taphonomy allows the collection and interpretation of contextual data,35 all of which
demonstrate the reciprocal relationship of taphonomy, archaeology and forensics.36 Although all CMP
cases are only related to skeletal material and the time of death cannot be determined via standard
taphonomic reconstructions, a rigorous methodology is still applied and functions as one of several
quality control mechanisms. This is particularly important when the archaeologist must determine
the nature of a burial (diachronic, synchronic, primary, secondary) and whether it has been altered
posthumously.37 The proper application of forensic taphonomy has been repeatedly stressed as the
only way to identify and contextualise every taphonomic agent that has shaped a burial location, and
ultimately establish forensic significance.38
All of the field teams follow the stratigraphic method, and a systematised way of labelling the finds
to show the associations until everything is uncovered, maintaining consistency throughout the
exhumation (Figure 5). The archaeologists maintain and record the spatial relationship amongst the
finds, i.e. the three-dimensional relationship between the artefacts and human remains. A detailed,
scaled archaeological and osteological sketch is produced for each layer to show the association
amongst the various elements which are present. It is accompanied by a scaled sketch of the
stratigraphy section and the dispersal of elements showing their vertical displacement.
The recovery process is systematised following international standards.39 The remains are recorded
either as bodies (B), body parts (BP), or general body parts (GBP), while artefacts are given the
code (A). They receive a number sequentially ordered in accordance to when they were exhumed.
Nonetheless, there are several occasions where artefacts are collected but are not associated with any
Dirkmaat et al. 2008: 37–38.
Saul and Saul 2002: 71–97.
Dirkmaat and Passalacqua 2012: 475.
Ibid, 476; Dirkmaat et al. 2008: 39–40; Sorg et al. 2012: 477–480.
Anderson et al. 2008: 69–70.
Figure 5. The exhumation process.
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remains. They are all recorded under the code (A), always noting the associations, if any, between
the recovered items. The exhumed remains and artefacts are transferred in sealed bags to the CMP
Anthropological Lab, to be analysed by the Forensic Anthropologists. Maintaining a detailed and
thorough inventory during the exhumation of the remains and artefacts is essential, as it can provide
details and observations during the anthropological analysis as demonstrated in other cases.40 All
associated archaeological and anthropological data are stored on a server for future reference.
The strict application of archaeological methods in combination with current forensic taphonomic
practices ensures more than the quality of the process itself. The resulting data are both solid and
uncontaminated, thus becoming another layer of quality control essential for the anthropological
and genetic analyses.41 One can argue that the application of forensic archaeological protocols
ought to become a standard process in historical archaeological contexts when human or animal
remains are encountered, due to their previously discussed benefits. Nonetheless, such a process
remains extremely demanding and requires well-trained staff to apply it. The complexity of forensic
archaeological sites can be often overwhelming, particularly in harsh environments (e.g. mountains,
wells, rocky coasts, gorges).
Analysis of coastal forensic excavations and exhumations
Cyprus is located in the northeastern Mediterranean Sea, with an area of 9,251 km2 and a substantial
coastal length of 772 km. The island is divided in four geological terrains: the Kyrenia Terrain,
the Troodos Ophiolite complex, the Mamonia complex and the Circum Troodos Sedimentary
Succession,42 each representing a specific moment in the island’s geomorphological history.43 Despite
its coastal length, Cyprus’ coastal plain is very narrow (0.5–5 km wide)44 and shares the weak tidal
system of the Mediterranean Sea.45
The coastal plains show great variation as they range from steep cliffs, to rocky shores with sea
caves, shingle and sandy beaches, and ophiolite formations. Additionally, elevated marine terraces
are found bordering along the coastal plain. Delipetrou et al.46 specify that the ‘coastal typology’
includes hard rocks and sand gravel, a diversity evident when reviewing the coastal areas island-wide
and particularly the forensic coastal sites that have been investigated by the BCFT.
The number of coastal forensic sites varies in each district and reflects the events of the conflicts.
Until December 2015 the BCFT had excavated 909 sites (Figure 6), but only 11% of those are
situated at a coastal location (n=100). The authors present those coastal forensic excavations and
exhumations and incorporate the pertaining geomorphological data that have affected them in their
analysis. The administrative division of Cyprus into six districts has been maintained in the overall
approach of the material. The statistical analyses are accompanied by a map, whereas the forensic
excavations have been divided in two categories: sites with human remains (marked with yellow),
and sites without remains (marked with green), (Figs 3–4).
By December 2015, the BCFT had visited 22 locations in Paphos but only few were coastal (3/22).
These sites are situated in the Chrysochou-Gialia Coastal Plain, which has developed along a 18km
coastal strip, and consists of gravels, sands, silts and sandstones with intercalated sections of marls.
In all cases, the local geology was reflected in the excavations: the top layer of humus was followed
by a layer of beige-white fine sand (Figure 8a), or alternatively by a layer of greyish-brown gravel
Buikstra and Ubelaker, 1994.
Moyssi, Ktori and Vehit, in press.
Panayides 2009: 212.
Avraamides 2003: 280.
Ibid: 281.
Jeftic et al., 1990.
Delipetrou et al., 2008: 174–175.
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mEthodoloGy issuEs of forENsiC ExCaVatioNs at Coastal sitEs
Figure 6. The total number of forensic excavations per district.
Figure 7. The forensic coastal sites per district.
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(Figure 8b). Human remains were encountered in two sites, one with sandy and one with gravel
soil. The BCFT immediately observed certain difficulties during the excavation: a) the sandy soil
was collapsing from the baulks when excavating manually, b) the high levels of salinity damaged
significantly the retrieved clothing and corroded any metallic artefacts, c) the remains retrieved from
the sandy soil bore some black marks and showed greater deterioration as to those retrieved from the
gravel soil.
In Limassol district the BCFT has excavated a total of 21 locations. From the coastal sites (5/21), one
is located in the Akrotiri Coastal Plain and the soil profile reflects the local geomorphology: a top
humus layer with root activity, and layers of dark brown soil mixed with gravel and some silt. The
sites in the Limassol town vicinity had different stratigraphy, as the layers below the humus level
varied in colour (dark brown to reddish brown) and were mixed only with silt. When comparing
them, the sites where silty soil is encountered where more challenging than those in the Akrotiri
Coastal Plain, demanding a more controlled mechanical-aided excavation. In those particular cases,
the stratigraphical documentation of silty layers was generally more time-consuming since all the
subtle changes had to be carefully noted down.
A very challenging exhumation was conducted in an underground sea cave, situated in eastern
Limassol district, only 20 m from the sea. There were several practical difficulties in this case: a)
difficult access to the site (the team had to enter through an opening at the top of the cave, Figure 9a),
b) restricted space in the exhumation area (Figure 9b), c) the complicated cave layout (there were
Figure 8a–b. From left to right: a forensic exhumation in sandy soil, and another conducted in gravel soil, in Paphos district.
Figure 9a–b. From left to right: the underground coastal cave and the exhumation process, in Limassol district.
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mEthodoloGy issuEs of forENsiC ExCaVatioNs at Coastal sitEs
smaller caverns and tunnels some of which led towards the sea). The sand was a further complication
as it affected the articulation of the remains because it was not compact enough and animals could
scavenge them and scatter them fairly easily. The remains were exhumed from a thick layer of dark
grey sand mixed with gravel and rock debris that had fallen from the cave walls. The exposure to an
environment with significantly higher salinity levels affected their condition and one could observe
with naked eye layers of salts that had accumulated over the years.
In Larnaca district, the BCFT has excavated 26 sites. The coastal sites (7/26) are situated in two
areas: those between Zygi and Cape Kiti, and those in the Softades-Zygi Coastal Plain. The sites
close to Cape Kiti are affected by the Kiti-Pervolia aquifer which consists of marine terrace deposits
such as silts, gravel and sands.47 Their stratigraphy consists of reddish-brown layers mixed with
pebbles. The sites located between Cape Kiti and Ormidhia have different stratigraphy reflecting the
above-mentioned changes. The soil is usually a sandy dark grey, indicating that the source is igneous
rocks,48 medium to fine grain. On the other hand, the sites situated in the Softades-Zygi Coastal Plain
display a different stratigraphy, as the BCFT encountered layers of light brown or yellowish brown,
medium to fine silty sandy soil (Figure 10a–b), while the coastal plain aquifer geomorphology is
also attested.49 The BCFT faced practical problems when excavating deep trenches in sandy soil
that was repeatedly collapsing (Figure 10a); while recording the discrete stratigraphical nuances in
such conditions was challenging. As previously stated, sandy soils are far from compact and remains
disarticulate more easily. Regarding the forensic exhumations in Larnaca district, the disarticulation
of the remains was more intense as the areas have been cultivated for years. Thus, the BCFT was
unable to determine the actual degree of disarticulation that had occurred. However, it was possible
to observe the accumulation of salts on the remains and their significant deterioration when compared
to exhumations located further inland.
The BCFT has excavated a total of 207 sites in Famagusta district. From those, 12.5% (26/207) are
situated at a coastal location, and the BCFT has recovered human remains in less than 50% of them
(10/26). The majority of coastal sites are found along the Karpass Peninsula and have common soil
morphology characteristics, such as the sand colour (golden-grey), grain size (fine) and sand dunes
backing the beach (Figure 11a–b). Moreover, as several of those are in close distance to the shore
(up to 100 m), the remains recovered show greater deterioration especially in cases of superficial
or shallow burials. Furthermore, it was almost impossible to maintain the baulks to record the
stratigraphy of the burial.
Ibid: 22.
Ibid: 88–89.
Water Development Department 2004: 24.
Figure 10a–b. From left to right: the exhumation process in a deep trench and a close view of the remains and soil morphology,
in Larnaca district.
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Moving on to Kyrenia district, the BCFT has excavated 299 sites, and 17% of those (52/299) are
located along the coastline. Although the Kyrenia Coastal Plain is a continuation of the north
Karpass Peninsula, it shows greater geomorphological diversity evident by the numerous narrow
beaches of calcareous sand between Cape Apostolos Andreas to Cape Kormakitis/Koruçam Burnu,
and interchanging sandy and rocky beaches. The coastal forensic sites were situated in both rocky
and sandy coastal areas (Figure 12a-b). The soil morphology characteristics range from grey-
reddish brown sand and dark brown sandy soil with gravel to rock (limestone) terrace. One must
point out that the remains recovered at sites situated in rocky beaches are extremely weathered, as
they are always covered with very little to no soil. As a result, they are disarticulated and usually
scattered in niches and crevices between the rocks, but on the other hand, no mechanical-aided
excavation is required.
A final, small part of the coastline belongs to Nicosia district, Morphou Bay, which stretches from
Cape Kormakitis/Koruçam Burnu to Karavostasi/Gemikonağı. There, the BCFT has excavated a total
of 334 sites. A mere 2.1% is situated along the coastline (7/334), and human remains were retrieved
in 50% of those (4/7). As there are several seasonal rivers flowing from the Troodos Mountains,
they have brought river material such as gravel and pebbles to the coast.50 This is evident at the sites
Nir 2010: 846; Neal, 2002.
Figure 11a–b. From left to right: an exhumation at the south-east and another at the northern part of the Karpass Peninsula,
in Famagusta district.
Figure 12a–b. From left to right: an exhumation at a rocky beach and an excavation at a sandy beach in Kyrenia district.
Copyrighted material – No unauthorised reproduction in any medium
mEthodoloGy issuEs of forENsiC ExCaVatioNs at Coastal sitEs
excavated thus far, with the soil morphology ranging from reddish-brown and brown soils with silt
and gravel, to sandy greyish-brown soils (Figure 13a-b). The sites featuring sandy soil were, again,
the most challenging, and this has been a consistent issue along the coastline.
Based on the review of the above coastal forensic sites, the difficulties are several yet consistent in
relation to the soil morphology. In the sites with sandy soil the most common problem encountered
during the excavation, was the collapsing baulks. In such cases, the depth of the trenches created
further complications: a) the baulks would collapse completely in shallow trenches, up to 50 cm, b)
the baulks would collapse partially in trenches up to 1.50 m, c) the partial collapse of the baulks in
deeper trenches (2 m or more) increased the danger during the exhumation of remains.
This affects the documentation: a) in shallow trenches, the collapsed baulks offer no such possibilities,
b) in partially collapsed trenches, the stratigraphic sequence is de facto incomplete. Based on the
sample, challenging documentation has a 50% higher rate of occurrence, a rate only surpassed by
excavations in mountainous areas. As mentioned above documentation is key to forensic taphonomy,
the reconstruction of the burial context and establishing forensic significance. In coastal areas, the
BCFT is able to establish the nature of a burial. However, any posthumous alterations are usually lost
and the taphonomic agents that are known to shape burial locations are virtually non-existent when
sandy or silty soil is encountered.
Alternatively, sites with gravel soil or at rocky beaches are slightly less problematic in terms of
excavation and documentation. The exhumation remains challenging and disarticulation occurs
very often. Rocky beach sites have the highest rate of disarticulated remains, a rate comparable
to mountainous terrain as both are equally exposed. The observed disarticulation and the range of
scattered remains were however significantly lower compared to CMP forensic cases in rivers or
streams, due to limited or no fluvial transportation.
Higher salinity levels are de facto encountered in all cases. When remains were retrieved, the
accumulation of salts was visible to the naked eye. Of those, bone degradation is higher in shallow
burials up to 70 cm, in burials located at 20–100 m from the shore, and at rocky beaches. The
remains retrieved from rocky beaches are in worse condition as they are exposed to natural elements.
Nonetheless, bone diagenesis, DNA integrity and their relation to the depositional environment
demand a full analysis on their own accord and will be addressed in a separate paper.
Figure 13a–b. From left to right: an exhumation in reddish brown soil with gravel and another in greyish-brown sandy soil, in
Nicosia district.
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Coastal forensic excavations and exhumations: proposed procedures
The protocols mentioned are applied to all excavations and exhumations across Cyprus. However,
coastal locations require a protocol adapted to the special environmental and geomorphological
conditions, as they pose many difficulties which are all uniquely and simultaneously present. Since
there are no cases of mass burials in coastal areas, the revised methods below can be applied to
burials of 1–5 people. This corresponds to the cases the BCFT has encountered thus far.
Based on the 100 coastal sites excavated until now, it is determined that the soil morphology varies:
a) sand, b) gravel, c) gravel and silt, d) sand and gravel, e) soil and silt, f) silty sand, g) silty gravel, h)
soil and pebbles, i) rock (limestone) terrace. It has been further observed that any remains retrieved
in coastal areas have suffered more because of the salinity levels and harsh environmental conditions,
a general phenomenon attested internationally.51
Considering the soil morphology, mechanical-aided excavation should be controlled and the soil
removed in layers of only 15–20 cm. When the burial is found and its limits are clear, a baseline
should be set up parallel to the top horizontal axis, to be used in the tape-and-offset method. Then,
a grid should be set up (1 x 1 m) and the soil should be removed in 10 cm layers (Figure 14a). Each
layer should be screened separately through a fine mesh to recover any bone fragments.
After removing 30–50 cm of soil, the remains are exposed sufficiently to be documented. However,
this exposure to natural elements will only damage them further. It is advised to cover them in
geotextile (Figure 14b), and excavate only 1–2 boxes of the grid at a time, invoking the excavation
technique applied in the case of the Ma’agan Mikha’el ship.52
Higgs and Pokines, 2014.
Kahanov and Linder 2004: 8–23; Linder 1989: 5–7; Linder 1992: 24–35.
Figure 14a–b. From left to right: setting up a baseline (yellow) parallel to the top horizontal axis of the burial; the burial covered
with pieces of geotextile.
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mEthodoloGy issuEs of forENsiC ExCaVatioNs at Coastal sitEs
Each box should be excavated in 10 cm layers, documented, and re-covered before proceeding to
another box. Regarding the documentation, each box can be photographed and processed digitally
on software such as Adobe Illustrator, and then all the digital drawings can be stitched together to
produce a final image. When the layer has been removed from all the boxes, the burial should be
uncovered: this helps in the exhumation strategy as well as the documentation. This process should
be repeated until the remains have been safely exhumed.
As coastal soils are unstable, it is proposed to use sheet cofferdams on at least one side of the burial
walls to prevent the baulks from collapsing (Figure 15). This will also preserve the stratigraphical
integrity. This method has been successfully applied in both terrestrial and underwater excavations.53
In a deep excavation, it is recommended to create terraces around the burial and use sheet cofferdams
on each terrace. This makes the exhumation safer and compartmentalises the stratigraphical sequence.
Each terrace can be recorded individually to produce a final picture in a timely manner and without
losing any data.
This study describes the particularities of forensic coastal sites in terms of geological and environmental
conditions, weather and hydrogeological factors. The sample of 100 sites across Cyprus showed
consistency in the challenges faced in such conditions and the need to revise and adapt current forensic
archaeological procedures. Based on current scientific literature and forensic practices applied by
internationally renowned organisations, the authors have proposed a more controlled excavation and
exhumation process that can be applied to forensic coastal sites. The proposed methods can certainly
be further revised in the future according to the specific needs of a case.
Renfrew and Bahn 2012: 110.
Figure 15. Sheet cofferdams on the side baulks of a coastal burial.
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... The standard arch- aeological stages in a CMP forensic excavation have now been consolidated into the following six: a) site risk assessment and preparation of a health and safety plan by the Health & Safety Coordinator, b) initial documentation of the site, c) intensive pedestrian sur- vey (when the terrain permits it), d) controlled mechanical-aided excavation, e) exhumation (when hu- man remains are encountered), and f ) restoration of the area to its prior state. It has previously stressed how landscape alterations affect both the investigation and the archaeological phases ( Ktori et al. 2016), as well as the methodical work followed to establish the biogeo- graphical context (Haglund and Sorg 2002). The overall discipline that characterises the field teams is demon- strated through their work in cases of mass graves, complex well excavations (Çeker and Stevens 2015), 46 and the establishment of new excavation methods ( Ktori et al. 2016 (Fig. 2). ...
... It has previously stressed how landscape alterations affect both the investigation and the archaeological phases ( Ktori et al. 2016), as well as the methodical work followed to establish the biogeo- graphical context (Haglund and Sorg 2002). The overall discipline that characterises the field teams is demon- strated through their work in cases of mass graves, complex well excavations (Çeker and Stevens 2015), 46 and the establishment of new excavation methods ( Ktori et al. 2016 (Fig. 2). ...
Full-text available
Background: In 1981, the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP) was established with a clear purpose: to determine the fate of the missing Greek and Turkish Cypriots who disappeared during the periods 1963–64 and 1974. Following many years of investigations and negotiations, such as on a mutually agreed list of 2001 missing persons (493 Turkish Cypriots and 1508 Greek Cypriots), the CMP officially began its operational phase in 2006 with a small number of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot scientists. Methods: This paper presents and analyses the development of the programme, the ways of providing assistance to other countries, and how the programme has influenced local and regional capacity. To do so, the authors performed qualitative and quantitative analyses to assess the programme accurately (annual staff numbers, annual excavations, exhumations and identifications, applied field and lab methods, internship and training programmes). Conclusions: The results show that the CMP has established a successful humanitarian programme, serving as a model for cooperation in a post-conflict environment. Since 2006, the team of scientists has grown in both numbers and experience, while the CMP has developed into a key player in the field of human identification that is able to provide expertise and technical assistance at a regional level. Ultimately, the authors were able to elucidate the current prospects and future perspectives of the programme to provide a holistic view to readers.
... The investigation phase relating to the location of burial sites includes the analysis and evaluation of information obtained from witnesses and informants, in combination with information documented in the missing persons' office files, group files, and geographical area files, but also information from other public or private archives and records, newspaper articles, books, internet sources, aerial photographs, and satellite images [7]. The supportive information for a possible burial site as well as other site assessment technical criteria are used in the field recovery phase, which involves the survey, excavation, and comprehensive documentation and recording of the site [7][8][9][10]. ...
The Committee on missing persons in Cyprus (CMP) is a bicommunal committee established in 1981, tasked to determine the fate of 2002 individuals who went missing during the intercommunal fighting of 1963−64 and the events of 1974. The CMP operates strictly within a humanitarian framework, using a multidisciplinary approach to conclude individual identifications of remains exhumed throughout the island, where all information obtained from different phases of the CMP Project is integrated and assessed in a comprehensive manner. By 2017, although over 1000 sets of remains were recovered and either identified or resolved by the CMP, 137 challenging cases remained unidentified at the CMP Anthropological Laboratory. To resolve these cases, different strategies were adopted where the investigatory component was enhanced through the implementation of new data mining approaches, and the genetic-related data were revised and updated through the adoption of new DNA technologies and the improvement of the Family Reference Samples Database. These new approaches resulted in a dramatic reduction of the number of unidentified cases (by over 70 %) as well as the timeframe required for future identifications. These approaches could serve as an example in other humanitarian contexts facing similar challenges as they can have a profound impact on the families of missing persons.
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**The full paper is available upon request** This paper reports on coastal exhumations performed during 2006-2022, under the framework of the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP) humanitarian identification programme. CMP archaeologists investigated 217 coastal locations and recovered skeletal remains on 44 occasions. Challenging environmental conditions required a customized exhumation plan, which could be executed swiftly without compromising operational integrity or standards. The author performed a retrospective analysis to propose an optimized strategy, which includes a survey, exhumation, digital documentation, and post-processing components, with the aim of minimizing the effects of adverse environmental conditions. The proposed strategy is based on scientific standards and observations in the field; it can satisfy the needs of a humanitarian or criminal investigation if appropriate measures are taken to uphold legislative and forensic standards. The author also discussed the taphonomic effects of coastal erosion and wave activity in tandem with exhumation recommendations to assist forensic practitioners involved in similar investigations.
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**The full paper is available upon request** Forensic sciences is the umbrella term used to describe the different disciplines used in resolving forensic medicolegal, criminal, and humanitarian investigations. Physical anthropology played a key role since the inception of the field, and forensic anthropologists are often in charge of the recovery of human remains. The use of archaeological methods, first advocated in the late 1970s, developed into what we call today forensic archaeology; that is, the scientific discipline combining archaeological theories, methods, and field techniques with criminalistics in the context of a forensic investigation. This study follows the birth and development of forensic archaeology in Cyprus, as implemented by foreign experts and Cypriot scientists in the Republic of Cyprus. The author discusses examples from both criminal and humanitarian forensic investigations, their respective contexts, and the stakeholders involved to illustrate the different trajectories in Cypriot forensic archaeology. This shows that in some respects the discipline remains nascent, while in others there is a high level of local expertise that can be developed further.
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The Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP) is a bicommunal body established in 1981 that aims to recover, identify, and return remains to the families of 2001 missing persons from events that occurred between 1963 and 1964 and in 1974. At the time of the writing of this article, the remains of 1061 individuals have been exhumed, and 625 have been identified. This article presents a system for forensic management and artifact collection during the identification of missing persons, the usefulness of the information that is provided by artifacts, and the impact that artifacts have on families when artifacts are released to the families with the remains. The CMP experience indicates that proper forensic management plays an important role in the identification process and contributes to bicommunal stability in Cyprus.
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