Eye-opening trip to Guatemala inspires PhD student research

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University of Lincoln PhD student Ryan Austin went on an enriching and inspirational trip to Guatemala for his MSc Forensic Anthropology course, and is taking his research back in time to make some historic discoveries of the Guatemalan conflict.

Ryan’s research topic is ‘Identifying the missing; Utilising Strontium Isotopes for Geolocation; the voice of Guatemalas forgotten’ and he will be using Inductively Coupled Plasma- Mass Spectrometry to analyse the remains of individuals involved in the Guatemalan conflict of 1960 – 1996. Using strontium isotope ratios, most specifically strontium 87/86, will allow individuals to be separated based on the areas where they spent their lives.

This for the subject area represents a clear example of a scientific project with a clear humanitarian aim. Ryan will be working alongside the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) in the hope of repatriating those who were disappeared during the troubles. The majority of the attacks were aimed at the indigenous Maya with the Historical Clarification Commission (CEH) reporting that out of the 200,000 reported victims 83% were indigenous.

In terms of identification, when DNA fails many of these communities can be recognised by their clothing whose patterns are characteristic to the area of origin. However in many instances clothing has degraded due to the conditions of the burial such as bug activity and moisture.

Isotopes offer an objective method to determine the areas where these individuals lived during their lifetime. This allows ante-mortem data collection (information regarding a missing person) to be focused to these areas and increases the probability of individuals being reunited with their families and communities.

We will keep you up to date on Ryan’s discoveries as his research continues.

If you’re interested in Postgraduate study, click here to see Ryan explaining why Further Education could be the right choice for you.