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DNA Testing of Remains

Tomb of the Unknown Warrior

16 April 2015

Determining the identity of First and Second World War remains is a complex process. The battlefields of the First and Second World Wars were chaotic and extremely dangerous environments, and the time, opportunity and technology available to identify those who fell were very limited compared to what we would expect today.

When remains are found we use all the information that is available, including location information, the archaeology of the burial site and historical records to try to determine the identity of the remains.

A lot depends on the state of preservation of the remains, and that there is no DNA database of the New Zealand population against which we could compare DNA data.  There is also no guarantee that there will be living relatives resident in New Zealand in the present day. It is important to note that not all relatives will possess a DNA match as much of the science depends on mitochondrial DNA which is passed down through the female line.

DNA testing in some cases may also be unnecessary. In a few rare cases the archaeological and historical record leaves no reasonable doubt about the identity of the remains. This occurs most frequently in cases involving the remains of aircrew associated with very well documented aircraft crash sites.

The necessity and or/prospects of DNA and other forms of scientific investigation of recovered remains are reviewed on a case-by case-basis.

Whether or not precise identities can be established, at all times the remains are treated with respect. If a set of remains are determined to be those of an unknown New Zealander, they are reburied with full military honours. The names of all New Zealanders who fell are recorded on memorials and on the National Roll of Honour held at the National War Memorial in Wellington. They are not forgotten.


 

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