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Spatial analysis and predictive modelling of clandestine graves from rearguard repression of the Spanish Civil War

Resource type
Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Over 100,000 non-combatants lie in unmarked graves across Spain, victims of deliberate killings committed by the rearguard during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The side of the conflict that is responsible for the killings, the “Nationalists”, won the war and set up a dictatorship that governed Spain until 1977, prohibiting investigations of the killings. In 2000, civil groups began locating and excavating the graves in an attempt to identify, repatriate and memorialize the victims. The purpose of this study is to detect spatial patterns of clandestine burials of the victims in Spain in order to facilitate victim recovery. The data analyzed come from excavated burial sites of victims who were killed in the rearguard of the Spanish Civil War. Spatial analysis and predictive modelling are used to analyze different variables, influential in the decision making process of the killers, taking into account killer objectives and constraints. Three predictive models are created using inductive and deductive approaches. Results of statistical tests and predictive modelling demonstrate patterns in kill site selection but also indicate shortcomings due to data availability, analytical limitations and the complexity of killer behaviour. This thesis demonstrates that the clandestine grave locations in Spain are patterned, resulting from killer behaviour that is logical and quantifiable. The results can help locate further missing persons. This study represents the first of its kind in the field of forensic archaeology and advocates greater use of analytical methods such as spatial analysis and predictive modelling. The study also advocates a theoretically informed approach in forensic archaeological research and practice. The methods and the patterns identified in this study set a precedent for similar analysis in other contexts for the investigation of missing persons, victims of enforced disappearance.
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Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Skinner, Mark
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