Can you tell a dug up grave and not show it?

I was wondering if you had an old grave and someone dug it up and then tried to replace the corpse and rebury another, would it be obvious?

The reason I asked is based on a Donald E Westlake novel Bad News

Basically they try to run a con and an Indian lady claims to be descended from a certain tribe that is extinct. So the gang plans to dig up the Indian lady’s REAL grandfather and replace him with a guy in a grave that the tribe she is trying to con knows is from that now extinct tribe.

So when they do DNA test her DNA will match.

Of course they aren’t the only ones who get the idea of switching bodies and soon everyone is digging up graves with hilarious results

So I was wondering in real life would the authorities be able to tell if a grave is recently tampored with

I’d say it would be impossible to do in such a way that a trained forensic team, specifically looking for evidence of tampering, would be fooled, but how much lead time are we talking about here?

Soil compaction (or lack of it) in the refilled grave would be an issue, but possibly one that could be fudged by careful packing down during refilling.

Evidence of disturbance of turf would be another, as would the inevitable mess made by digging, but given sufficient lead time, these too could be concealed, maybe.

A lot of it depends on the expectations and diligence of the team doing the exhuming - are they expecting or suspecting foul play?

Go dig a hole in your back yard, go ahead I’ll wait…

Back? Here’s some Kool-Aid for a job well done.

Now go fill it back in.

Alright, I bet you’re saying “now my yard looks like crap, thanks a lot!” That’s the point, the dirt is all loose and mixed up and fresh, it looks different. It will settle and look pretty mucht he same in time but even if done enough in advance to settle there’s still the question of whether the cemetary/burial site had grass or not. A lot of the cemetaries around here have lush, green grass any tampering with the soil would be incredibly obvious. Likewise in the old Native American burial grounds back when I lived in Wisconsin they looked like part of the landscape and digging it up would be very noticable.

The other issue is the age of the body, there’s a certian window where it’ll probably be difficult to distinguish age A bones from age B bones (probably a relatively close window), but still you want to make sure that the people would be similiarily decomposed (and I’m not how accurate our dating methods are, but I think it’s reasonable for me to guess there should be some methods to tell on something that happened only two generations ago) and such already. So that would be another potential strike. Though I’m not an expert on human remains and someone could probably elaborate more and/or correct me.

Also I’m not entirely sure I understand what heppened in that book based on the synopsis but if I uderstand it sounds… interesting to say the least.

Preliminary analysis of an alleged 40-year old grave site by Charles Manson and/or The Family was easily discernible to experts.

I visited the grave of a family member about 4 or 5 hours after the burial. I was surprised to see that the finished job was almost indistinguishable from the surrounding area. They had cut and replaced the sod, and had collected all the loose soil and carted it away. Only on close inspection could I see the seams in the sod, a little loose soil, and maybe fresh tracks from heavy equipment. If I had looked from, say, 50 feet away I don’t think I would have noticed.

So, I’d say it would not be obvious. But it would be noticeable to someone looking for it.

It would certainly be obvious to a forensic archaeologist or anthropologist - original graves disturb soil stratification, but redigging the grave will destroy any subsequent stratification and compaction, as well as probably introducing contemporary contamination (a fresh leaf on top of the coffin in a 200 year old grave might be a bit of a giveaway).

So if someone had a good look, the subterfuge posited by the OP would be obvious.


ETA: Nevermind, I misunderstood.

Yeah I usually like Westlake’s novel but this one was a total mess. He even had the woman HAND over a sample of her hair for the DNA. Hand it over?? LOL