"Hyperspectral imaging" analyses visible and infrared images taken by aircraft and detects changes in vegetation caused by nutrients released from decomposing bodies.
Forensic archaeologists from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, tested the technique at a Quebec safari park and detected differences in chlorophyll content of plants growing on known burial sites. The findings, presented at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences annual meeting in February, were reported in New Scientist.
A UK forensic archaeologist, Ian Hanson of the University of Bournemouth, said the method could help find mass graves in war zones.
His team has researched how maggots feeding on buried carcasses can raise soil temperature enough to be detected by infrared, even when the body has lost its own heat.