This article presents key findings from the past decade of experimental research on pediatric and adult cranial fracture undertaken through an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Michigan State University (MSU) Forensic Anthropology and Orthopedic Biomechanics Laboratories under funding from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).
The involved laboratories collaborated on forensic cases that involved blunt force fractures. Analyses addressed the minimum number and locations of impacts and, in pediatric cases, whether these injuries reflected child abuse; however, analyses were limited by a lack of systematic research and baseline experimental data on cranial fracture development. A lack of consensus was noted in the literature regarding where fractures form relative to the point of impact (POI). Prominent early research by Gurdjian and colleagues (1950) indicates fractures can initiate peripheral to the POI in areas of out-bending; however, in a recent study, Kroman (2003) claims that cranial fractures initiate only at the POI. The reported collaborative research over the past decade has addressed this scientific gap through a series of biomechanical impact experiments that used pediatric animal and adult human models. The most recent 2015 NIJ grant investigated adult cranial fractures through a series of filmed impact experiments on whole head cadaver specimens. Video from these experiments revealed that peripheral initiation also occurs in adults. This has implications for the assessment of impact location: in some cases, linear fractures occurred peripherally with no damage at the POI. This research has produced a major shift in understanding of cranial fracture development. The results indicate that the assumption that cranial fractures only initiate at the POI is not only flawed, but could also lead to inaccurate assessments of locations and numbers of impact. Finally, this work provides a template for future experimental trauma research, an area the field of forensic anthropology has only begun to explore. (publisher abstract modified)