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Recovery of Human Skeletal Elements From a Recent UK Murder Inquiry: Preservational Signatures

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Sciences Volume: 44 Issue: 5 Dated: September 1999 Pages: 945-950
Margaret Cox Ph.D.; Lynne Bell Ph.D.
R. E. Gaensslen Ph.D.
Date Published
The aim of this study was to examine whether the survival of skeletal elements from a recent serial murder investigation in the United Kingdom and three archaeological cemetery sites from England shared similar recovery signatures.
Twelve female skeletons were recovered from three sites, each with a different burial environment and were examined by pathologists. Because all the victims had been deliberately buried, it was decided to choose cemetery sites for comparison. Data analysis demonstrated that, even when clear evidence of traumatic and perimortem dismemberment existed within an assemblage, the distribution of missing elements can be almost identical to archaeological material buried in normal attrition cemeteries. Given that preservational signatures are so similar, the authors conclude that careful observation of bone surfaces is necessary to confidently interpret bone loss, particularly where dismemberment and/or element excision is suggested by the non-anatomical position of the skeleton in the grave. Where postmortem excision of bone is suspected, careful examination of contiguous bone surfaces, both macroscopic and microscopic, is suggested to detect fine cut-mark lesions indicative of anthropogenic excision. Without this evidence, other preservation factors must be considered both taphonomic and diagenetic. 20 references, 8 tables, and 2 figures