Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College


Committee Chair

John Douglas

Committee Co-chair

Kelly J. Dixon

Commitee Members

John Grebenkemper


ICP-OES, Historic Human Remains Detection Dogs, Burial Detection, Soil Analysis, Inorganic Elements, Historical Archaeology


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Archaeological Anthropology


One point at which forensic science and historical archaeology intersect, and the focus of this thesis, is using the decidedly forensic avenues of trained dogs, probing, and chemical analyses of soils, informed by archaeological survey, to locate burials. Human remains detection dogs have proven to be a nonintrusive and effective method for identifying or confirming historic unmarked burial locations. Inorganic soil analyses have been demonstrated in prior research to show variations in grave soil. For this research, the hypothesis that is explored is that a corpse will chemically alter the soil in or on which it is placed to a degree that is detectable using inorganic chemical analyses, after many decades or even centuries, and that the inorganic chemical profile associated with grave soil will correspond with canine alerts. If certain elements do co-occur with dog alerts, then testing for their presence in soil may be a reliable and less costly method on its own or potentially could be employed as a second source of evidence for burials identified by dog alerts or other methods of detection. In an effort to gauge the reliability and agreement of these methods, Historic Human Remains Detection (HHRD) dog alerts were recorded and corresponding soil samples were attempted in five case studies at geographically distinct sites of potential burials, 100 to 1,100 years old. Soil samples were tested using inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry (ICP-OES) elemental analysis to determine their inorganic composition. Three of these sites were previously reported as inconclusive and were reanalyzed here. Results showed that there appeared to be some correspondence between HHRD dog alerts and inorganic soil profiles consistent with that reported in other studies. Although further and more robust research on inorganic soil analysis is required to confirm its validity and reliability, this thesis concludes that appropriate surface soil analyses appear to have potential as a minimally invasive tool to help identify historic human burials, particularly those burials that have been located with the use of HHRD dog investigations.



© Copyright 2017 Britt Schlosshardt