Science to identify ‘most difficult’ defence force human remains

By Jackson Graham

Sunday September 26, 2021

An investment through Australia’s Defence Innovation Hub has enabled scientists to identify remains from Australian defence members who died in historic wars.
An investment through Australia’s Defence Innovation Hub has enabled scientists to identify remains from Australian defence members who died in historic wars. (Defence)

Scientists are using new technology to identify remains from Australian defence members who died in historic wars, thanks to an investment through Australia’s Defence Innovation Hub

The federal government has agreed to a $2.2 million contract with the Queensland University of Technology, where researchers are developing forensic technology to examine human remains. 

The project will initially examine five to 10 cases the Defence Department has classified as the “most difficult” it is trying to resolve from the First and Second World Wars. 

“Defence has a number of active cases we are trying to resolve, identify and notify family members about,” a department spokeswoman told The Mandarin

There are more than 25,000 Australian soldiers, 3100 airmen and many sailors who have no known grave from World War I, World War II and the Korean War.

Typically the process involved anthropological, dental and DNA analysis of the remains, according to the department. 

“Historical battlespace research is then used to shortlist potential candidates missing from the recovery area,” the spokeswoman said. 

The recovered remains are housed and forensically examined in the region of recovery, with casualties from pre-1966 conflicts buried at the nearest war cemetery. 

“Although small scientific samples may be returned to Australia to support identification, repatriation is not supported by current policy,” Defence’s spokeswoman said. 

“Upon identification, or after the exhaustion of identification efforts, remains are buried with full military honours.” 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission does not allow graves to be disturbed for identification or DNA testing purposes and the department confirmed the project would adhere to this direction. 

Defence industry minister Melissa Price said in a statement the technology was invaluable to families and the nation. 

“Our soldiers, sailors and airmen deserve to be identified and finally laid to rest by their family and loved ones,” Price said.

The Defence Innovation Hub invests in a broad range of technologies with potential to deliver enhanced capability to defence while growing the Australian defence industry and innovation sector.


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