I will be sending everyone’s questions to Finch tomorrow, so today is your last chance to sneak one under the wire. Post your questions of death, dismemberment, and decay, and I will make sure they get to the Great Finch. Let’s give this man a challenge, people!
There’s been some wonderful questions so far! Keep ’em coming. To view my original post, click here.
Thanks for reading!
Is there a point where DNA can no longer be taken from bones? (‘Cause, on the ever-accurate television, after a certain point, they seem to need teeth).
Also, do bones smell? Untreated or treated?
Thanks a bunch.
Thanks, Elspeth! I will pass these on. And thanks for following me. 🙂
Hope I am not to late, I am trying to find some leads for the Casey Anthony case and was wondering how do you determine Cause Of Death with only a skeleton? Thanks! Sorry I’m late!
Welcome to my blog! You’re only a year late, and Finch is a friend of mine, so no worries. Here’s his answer to your question:
Cause of death is only as good as the evidence at hand. Imagine that the body is a radio signal. Close to the source, it’s loud and clear. Farther away, the signal fades or cuts out. A person may die from an infection or soft-tissue injury that leaves no traces upon the bones. In cases like this, the bones are silent. A chronic condition may leave marks of its passage, such as osteoporosis and digit loss associated with diabetes, or minor healing associated with brief survival from a blunt force injury. In cases like this, the changes to the bone may give you a rough idea as to how long the person lingered before death. However, healing depends on a lot of factors like nutrition, mobility, re-injury, etc. Think of breaking a bone. Six weeks is the oft-repeated time of healing, but this varies a lot based on where the break is, whether or not one receives medical treatment, if movement alters or prevents the bone’s healing, and so forth.
I’ll have to look at the Casey/Caylee Anthony details but the relevant testimony centres on the lack of plants growing on the skull as an indication of its recent deposition. This is a very relative bit of data and does not by itself tell you anything about time of death or death interval. However, as a piece of circumstantial evidence it is still potentially useful. A botanist was called by the defense to comment on the apparent interval of exposure; their comments are interesting. I’ll see if I can find anything more detailed.
Here’s a link on the botanist’s testimony: http://www.christianpost.com/news/caylee-anthonys-remains-in-woods-for-only-2-weeks-botanist-says-51396/
Forensics is just like archaeology — once the soft bits are gone, you depend on the environment for clues. This is an issue of taphonomy and diagenesis, or the differential preservation of remains. The problem is that nature is complex and dynamic, and does not easily lend itself to nice tight margins of error.
Hope that helps!