An exhumation, just like any archaeological dig, is an intrusive event which tends to destroy the context as the team proceeds with the investigation. It is for this reason that it is so important to document every little detail encountered. Each step of the exhumation is documented. Every time a skeleton is recovered, photographs are taken and measurements made.
Chain of custody is part of the documentation of what happens with the exhumed remains and evidence. This also means that the remains are
transported and kept in secure conditions at all times until returned to their families. Physical anthropologists analyze the remains to determine age, sex, stature, race, handedness, etc. They try to answer questions like, did they have any trauma that contributed to their death? Did they have any trauma that would individualize the person? For example, if a person broke a rib, or a leg — is it an old injury that has healed? And can it be matched with data from the antemortem interviews?
Final Report and Proper Burial
The information gathered in the laboratory is compared with the information from the interviews to try to make identifications and to determine the cause of death. A report is forwarded to the case prosecutor and family members of the victim. Finally, the remains are returned to family members or neighbors so that the victim can receive a proper burial, according to their customs.