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CMP using geophysics to ratchet up search for remains of the missing

ΔΕΑ Γεωφυσικοί έρευνες για εντοπισμό πιθανών σημείων για ανασκαφές
Working at a football pitch in the Nicosia district (CNA)

The Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) is striving to accelerate the pace of recovery, identification, and return of remains to the families and are utilising new technologies to help in the search.

For the second year, the CMP is employing additional methods to locate potential excavation sites using geophysical techniques. Two teams of geophysicists from abroad were in Cyprus this week under the guidance of Canadian professor Harry M. Jol from the Department of Geography and Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire in the USA.

They conducted research using two ground-penetrating radar devices in areas indicated by the CMP, with the aim of identifying points of human intervention beneath the surface.

The Cyprus News Agency visited the teams working on their last day at the Doxa Football pitch in Paliometoho in the Nicosia district.

Speaking to CNA, Professor Jol said they are looking at a variety of sites and trying to utilise different tools to look into the subsurface, to focus in areas for excavation.

“We have done two sites in the north, two sites in the south, we worked on a variety of places from everything to pavement to a lot of gravel in different sites and as you see here in a soccer field, a variety of different types of landscapes. What we are trying to find is where humans have dug into that surface,” he said.

Jol said that as a physical geographer, he looks into “that landscape where humans would have cut into those areas”.

He cited as an example from other places in the world, such as First Nations in North America and also the Holocaust where they “have done a fair amount of work. What we are trying to use is these different tools to help out the archaeologists to do their work. Our job is to pass along that information and they have to make decisions”.

ΔΕΑ Γεωφυσικοί έρευνες για εντοπισμό πιθανών σημείων για ανασκαφές
Photo: CNA

The team uses ground penetrating radar with lower and higher frequency antennae. They also use Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) which looks into what is the resistivity or conductivity of the rocks around this area.

“And between the two techniques we can try to focus in on better areas, so that we can take a look at those sites,” he added.

“These geophysical techniques allow us to eliminate areas of where those sites may be and allow archaeologists to focus in on more promising areas. So I think this is a huge future. In conferences I go to, these are tools that people want to know about and want to utilise.”

Dr Alastair Mcclymont Senior Geophysicist at the BGC Engineering Inc in Canada, who is in Cyprus pro bono to help and offer consultancy services, said they were here to help the CMP with investigations by using geophysical techniques.

“This is a way to look under the map without having to do an excavation, before excavation it is useful for mapping things underground so you can better plan where to do excavations,” he said.

Asked if they had located any disturbances in the ground that may lead the CMP evaluate where to look, Mcclymont said they were still in the early stages of analysing the information.

“Geophysics is just one technique to help determine where are the best places to excavate. We rely on eyewitness testimony and reports, and old photos. We are hoping that with the data that we have been able to get this week, that we can identify as to where there is more likely to be a grave and places where it is less likely to be a grave. So you don’t want to waste your time,” he added.

He said the teams would provide the information to the CMP, discuss the results and draw conclusions.

According to statistical data published on the CMP website, by July 25, 2023 out of 2,002 missing persons the remains of 1,204 were exhumed and 1,033 identified. From 1,510 Greek Cypriot missing persons 741 were identified and 769 are still missing. Out of 492 Turkish Cypriot missing persons, 292 were identified and 200 are still missing.

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