Advances in Forensic Human Identification


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Not Signed; New Perspectives in Forensic Human Skeletal Identification provides a comprehensive and up-to-date perspective on human identification methods in forensic anthropology. Divided into four distinct sections, the chapters will reflect recent advances in human skeletal identification, including statisti. Publisher: Academic Press , This specific ISBN edition is currently not available.

View all copies of this ISBN edition:. Synopsis About this title New Perspectives in Forensic Human Skeletal Identification provides a comprehensive and up-to-date perspective on human identification methods in forensic anthropology. A comprehensive and up-to-date volume on human identification methods in forensic anthropology Focuses on recent advances such as statistical and morphometric methods for assessing the biological profile, biochemical methods of identification and use of comparative radiography Includes an entire section on human identification techniques being applied to international populations and disaster victims "synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author : Dr. Buy New Learn more about this copy. Customers who bought this item also bought. Stock Image. New Hardcover Quantity Available: Book Depository hard to find London, United Kingdom. Seller Rating:. New Hardcover Quantity Available: 1. New Quantity Available: 3. Latham, Eric J. Thus, forensic anthropologists play a key role in personal identification by providing information on sex, age-at-death, ancestry, and stature as well as identifying information on anomalies, antemortem trauma, medical intervention, and pathological conditions.

While this information aids in narrowing missing persons searches, personal identification is usually achieved using more in-depth scientific evaluations, such as comparative analysis of fingerprints, DNA profiles, dentition, and radiographs. These modalities have been highly effective in identifying unknown decedents, and recent improvements in the underlying science are encouraging [ 2—5 ]. Despite the analytical power of these traditional tools, they all rely on having antemortem records with which to compare postmortem data.

For longstanding unidentified remains cases, investigators increasingly turn to newer scientific tools to provide investigative leads. One area that has demonstrated promise for forensic human identification over the past decade is isotope analysis. Isotope analysis has a long history of application in the study of ecological, geological, and hydrological systems [ 6 ]. More recently, it has also become an increasingly valuable tool in the forensic sciences, with applications ranging from analysis of explosives and other forms of trace evidence e.

In this article we focus specifically on the emerging role of isotope analysis for provenancing unidentified human remains to aid in resolving medicolegal cases. We first review the basic principles of isotope analysis, then briefly discuss instrumentation, analytical standards, sample selection, and sample quality measures. We conclude with case studies that reflect diverse applications of isotope analysis to the medicolegal system and also future directions.

We refer the interested reader to more extensive literature reviews on forensic applications of isotope analysis [ 7—16 ]. Most elements in the periodic table exist in multiple forms called isotopes. Isotopes of an element are distinguished by differences in the number of neutrons.

Of all the elements in the periodic table, only 21 are monoisotopic, meaning they have a single naturally occurring isotope form [ 17 ]. The stable isotope forms of an element typically include one common isotope and one or more rare isotope s. The superscript notation used for identifying isotopes represents the sum of protons and neutrons — e.

Unlike radioactive isotopes e.

Recent applications of isotope analysis to forensic anthropology

Isotopic compositions of non-metal elements such as H, C, N, O, and S are typically expressed as ratios R of a rare to common stable isotope e. Stable isotopes of interest for the metal elements strontium Sr and lead Pb include primordial stable isotopes and radiogenic stable isotopes, or isotopes that are the stable products of radioactive decay. The radiogenic stable isotope 87 Sr is the product of the decay of 87 Rb, while the radiogenic stable isotopes Pb, Pb, and Pb are products of the decay of U, U, and Th, respectively.

When measured alongside primordial stable isotopes i. Both the lighter and heavier stable isotopes of an element may take part in reactions, but the small mass differences between the isotope forms cause them to behave differently in chemical and physical processes. The partitioning of elements and their isotopes between two or more substances or fractions pools is called isotopic fractionation. For two isotopes of the same element, the strength of bonds involving the heavier isotope is usually slightly greater — and thus slightly more difficult to break — than the strength of bonds involving the lighter of the two isotopes.

Thus, mass-dependent isotopic fractionation can take place during chemical reactions when bonds are broken and reformed. Mass-dependent isotopic fractionation can also take place during physical processes that involve separating molecules with different masses — for example, gas exchange through plant stomata.

Consider the movement of H and O isotopes through the global water cycle as another example of mass-dependent isotopic fractionation. Water molecules of differing isotopic composition and thus differing mass — called isotopologues, and containing various combinations of the stable isotopes 1 H, 2 H, 16 O, 17 O, and 18 O — are impacted differently by the processes of evaporation and condensation [ 18 ]. The heavier isotopologues of water tend to remain in the liquid form as compared to their lighter counterparts.

As a consequence, the hydrogen and oxygen isotopic compositions of water vary systematically in space when measured as precipitation [ 19 ] or tap water [ 20 ]. There is a strong correlation between the isotopic composition of water and atmospheric temperature, elevation, and distance from the coast. Water molecules containing 1 H or 16 O are generally found further inland in cooler climates, and further along gradients of temperature, altitude, and latitude, than water molecules containing 2 H or 18 O.

Applications of isotope analysis have a long history in chemistry, biology, ecology, geology, hydrology, oceanography, archaeology, and physical anthropology [ 15 ]. However, in comparison, the history of applications of isotope analysis for provenancing unidentified human remains from medicolegal cases is relatively short.

Over the past decade, predictive models have been developed to provide parameters from which to compare isotope values in animal tissues, including bird feathers, teeth, bone, hair, and nails. Most commonly, predictive models incorporate spatial information i.

Advances In Forensic Human Identification Blythe Teri Berry Rachel Mallett Xanthe

Isoscapes can be generated for multiple materials e. Predictive isoscape maps are especially useful for multi-isotope applications where overlapping isotopic profiles can aid in narrowing regions-of-origin. In conjunction with the biological profile and other identifying information from the skeleton, isotope analyses can provide new investigative leads by narrowing down possible geographic regions from which a person traveled or previously lived.

Since the recognition of the basic principles of isotope geochemistry in , research and analysis has focused primarily on five non-metal elements and their isotopes: H, C, N, O, and S [ 17 ]. Significant oxygen isotope datasets of particular note include a large collection of dental remains from U. However, extreme caution is needed when using published isotope data of human tissues to create composite datasets for calibration models or to make direct sample-to-sample comparisons for provenancing.

Those authors found that approximately half of the isotopic variability observed between laboratories was due to differences in sample preparation procedure while the other half was due to differences in isotope analysis technique. As an additional warning note, the hydrogen isotope analysis of proteinaceous tissues, such as hair, is difficult due to the presence of labile H atoms, which must be controlled and accounted for during sample preparation and analysis [ 34 , 35 ].

American service members from local Asians [ 36 ] as well as U. Americans from undocumented border crossers from Latin America. The tissues of individuals consuming significant quantities of C 4 plants, either directly through plant-based foods or indirectly through meat raised on C 4 fodder, will be isotopically distinct from those of individuals consuming primarily C 3 -based foods. We note that significant intake of marine-based foods will also have an impact on the carbon isotopic composition of a tissue, as marine resources are typically elevated in 13 C relative to terrestrial resources.

It is perhaps not surprising that archaeologists have been using carbon isotope analysis for decades to reconstruct palaeodiets [ 38—42 ]. It is thus advisable to carefully interpret the nitrogen isotopic compositions of human tissues in conjunction with the carbon isotopic compositions. This may have to do with the lower abundance of sulfur as opposed to carbon and nitrogen in organic materials, requiring larger sample sizes for analysis.

In addition to the five bio-elements described previously, two metal elements found in lower trace concentrations within human tissues have been used for human provenancing: strontium Sr and lead Pb. The extremely small differences in the masses of trace element isotopes require more precise isotope ratio measurements — and thus more expensive instrumentation — than what is needed for measurements of the isotope ratios of the bio-elements. Sample preparation requires a dedicated clean room or rooms while the instrumentation used for trace element isotope analysis is not only expensive but requires significant training to operate.

Keynote – Paul Holes

Sr isotopic variation in the environment is ultimately related to a bedrock deposit, its age, and its susceptibility to weathering [ 59 ]. As noted previously, the radiogenic isotope 87 Sr is a product of the radioactive decay of 87 Rb. Weathering releases Sr from bedrock into the local environment where it is taken up by plants and then ingested by animals in their food.

Recently, maps of predicted Sr isotopic variation in the environment have been published for the U. Within humans, Sr can substitute for calcium and is found primarily in bones and teeth. There is in essence no isotopic fractionation between Sr in source e. Similar to Sr, the lead isotope method [ 70 ] takes advantage of radioactive decay, time, and the relative concentrations of elements specifically Pb, Th, and U in the environment.

The radiogenic isotopes Pb, Pb, and Pb are derived from the radioactive decay of U, U, and Th, respectively. These anthropogenic factors must be considered when creating reference samples datasets or Pb isoscapes [ 71 ] to ensure both spatial and temporal comparisons are appropriate for the provenancing questions being asked. At present there are relatively few published Pb isoscapes, for the U. However, additional reference datasets of Pb isotopic variations in human tissues are available, e. Like Sr, Pb can substitute for calcium in bone and teeth and there is generally no isotopic fractionation between element source and human tissue.

In the space available for this article it is impossible for us to provide a detailed explanation of isotope analysis and the available methods, instrumentation, etc. Instead, we provide a brief overview of some common types of instrumentation and highlight the importance of standards in analysis. The isotope ratios of the bio-elements are typically measured via IRMS.

Samples must be converted into simple gases for analysis: i. Today, most samples are converted to gas immediately before introduction to the mass spectrometer through the use of various peripherals and a carrier gas He in what is known as continuous flow-IRMS CF-IRMS. Sample analysis via CF-IRMS can be divided into four steps: 1 Combustion or thermal conversion of a sample into simple gases using an elemental analyzer EA ; 2 introduction of the gases into the ion source of the mass spectrometer via the interface; 3 ionization of the gas molecules followed by separation and detection of the ions in the mass spectrometer; and 4 evaluation of the raw data.

To ensure all isotopes of an element are counted, multiple masses must be monitored simultaneously — for example, N 2 containing 14 N 14 N mass 28 versus 14 N 15 N mass A simple schematic of the analysis of bio-elements e. Recently a new method for isotope analysis of bio-elements has been introduced: isotope ratio infrared spectroscopy IRIS [ 79—81 ]. The technique relies on the characteristic absorption of light by different isotopologues of gas to measure isotope ratios.

Isotope analysis via MC-ICP-MS involves the ionization of a sample usually in liquid form through the use of a high-energy plasma discharge. However, most analysts include an international reference material, such as SRM, in analytical sequences for quality control purposes — i. Secondary reference materials have been carefully calibrated to the primary materials; these secondary materials are available for purchase by laboratories, but typically in limited quantities to prevent their exhaustion.

For day-to-day operation, analysts will typically develop in-house laboratory standards that are calibrated to the secondary reference materials. Historically normalization was calculated as a one-point or offset correction based on multiple measurements of a single laboratory standard. Today, recommended good practice for forensic isotope analysis advocates the use of at least two laboratory standards for normalization to generate a stretch-shift or slope-intercept correction [ 75 , 84 , 85 ].


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To address this, some recent publications have presented recommended terminology and data presentation guidelines for reporting the results of bio-element isotope analysis. These include recommendations for forensics [ 84 ], ecology [ 86 ], and archaeology [ 87 , 88 ]. To date, however, we are unaware of any published guidelines for reporting the results of trace metal isotope analysis. While isotope ratios can be measured in all human tissues and bodily fluids, forensic applications are often constrained by the tissues available for sampling as well as the specific needs of a particular case investigation.

Time and funding are additional factors that may constrain the types and extent of isotope analysis completed. However, in unidentified remains cases, hair and nails may not preserve or be retained following autopsy or skeletal analysis, leaving only teeth and bone available for sampling.

Hair and nail keratin and bone collagen are the most commonly sampled proteinaceous tissues, whereas bioapatite from teeth and bone is the most commonly sampled biomineral tissue. Hair and nails are considered serial recorders in that they provide an incremental record of recent diet and residence. Although various factors such as health and age can influence growth rates of keratin, hair grows on average 0.

Sub-samples of hair and nails can be used to reconstruct a travel and dietary history for an unidentified decedent. Individuals who are sedentary may show similar isotope ratios throughout serial sections of hair or nails, whereas a traveler may show values that change regularly. For incremental studies of hair and nails, it is important to record the directionality of the tissue so that changes in isotopic composition can be examined chronologically. Hair is the preferred sample over nails given that its growth rate and metabolic inputs are better understood. Bone tissue is constantly remodeled throughout life.

However, the remodeling rate is not constant and varies throughout the lifespan, with faster bone turnover times in young adults compared to elderly adults. Bones within the skeleton also remodel at different rates. Collagen is composed of both nonessential and essential amino acids, the latter of which derive from dietary protein [ 93 , 94 ]. Hydroxyapatite, or bioapatite, is the biomineral component of tooth enamel and bone. While both the carbonate and phosphate fractions can be analyzed, the former is preferred due to its straightforward sample preparation procedures. Unlike carbon isotopes of bone collagen, which are biased toward dietary protein, bioapatite forms from dissolved bicarbonate in the blood and provides a record of consumption of carbohydrates, lipids, and protein not used in tissue synthesis of bone collagen i.

In addition, oxygen isotopes of the carbonate in bioapatite reflect residence patterns during the time of tissue formation. Thus, oxygen isotopes of teeth reflect region-of-origin during infancy and childhood, whereas bone provides a record of residence history during the last several years of life. Bioapatite in bone can potentially produce misleading results due to turnover and mixed residence pattern signals. However, the data will be useful for cases where an individual died recently after migrating or traveling to a new area since their isotope profiles will still reflect their previous residence location.

In context of unidentified human remains cases, diagenesis can be defined as the chemical alteration of biological remains due to the interaction with the environment, including soil and groundwater [ 9 ]. For most cases, diagenesis is not a major concern as the hard tissues of the skeleton are resilient against chemical alteration for short time intervals usually days to months after death. However, for human remains that have been exposed or buried for years to decades, significant degradation may occur, especially to hair and nails, and to a lesser degree, bone and teeth.

Sample quality assessment metrics established for keratin, collagen, and bioapatite provide parameters for including or excluding samples for isotope analysis [ 8 ]. Evaluation of sample quality is critical for medicolegal cases since compromised samples may yield inaccurate and misleading results. In this section, we present the application of isotope analysis as an investigative tool using three case examples.

We emphasise the use of different isotope systems for answering specific questions and for predicting region-of-origin of unidentified human remains cases and deceased undocumented border crossers from the U. In , a long bone shaft fragment was recovered during subsurface testing at a construction site in downtown San Francisco.

The bone was examined by a local cultural resource management firm, and an archaeologist identified it as possibly human. The construction company and medical examiner were concerned that the bone may be Native American in origin, causing potential issues with future development at the site. The bone had been fragmented into eight pieces and had to be reconstructed. Based on overall morphology, the fragments derived from a mammalian long bone, such as a humerus, tibia, or femur. The overall texture and distribution of cortical and cancellous bone compared more favorably with human bone than nonhuman bone.

For example, the boundary between cortical and cancellous bone is poorly defined in humans whereas in nonhuman animals, it is a much more defined boundary [ 95 ]. Although the macroscopic assessment did not permit a definitive identification as human, it was more consistent with being human than nonhuman. In humans, the bone microstructure typically appears as a series of concentric secondary osteons. In most nonhuman animals, the bone microstructure appears as a series of brick-like structures, characteristic of plexiform bone [ 96 , 97 ].

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A small sample of bone was embedded in resin and slides were prepared using standard histological protocols and examined using an Olympus CX41 microscope Olympus, Tokyo, Japan. During the histological examination, both lamellar bone and osteonal bone were noted as well as a lack of osteonal banding, negating a definitive determination of human versus nonhuman. The degraded nature of the bone was a limiting role in the histological assessment. Given that the macroscopic and microscopic analyses were inconclusive but suggestive of human , the construction firm approved the use of isotope analysis to determine whether or not the bone collagen had carbon and nitrogen isotopic compositions similar to prehistoric Native Americans from the San Francisco Bay Area.

However, macroscopic characteristics can exclude sea mammals as the source of the bone fragment. While the isotope data in itself cannot be used to definitively identify an unknown bone as human, it can provide strong circumstantial evidence. Bivariate plot of bone collagen stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values of prehistoric hunter-gatherers from Central California.

In , a human skull was located in the desert in southern California. The biological profile indicated the remains were those of a young Hispanic female. Despite obtaining a DNA profile and conducting an extensive missing persons search, law enforcement was unable to identify the decedent. In , the remains were submitted to the HIL for preparation and isotope analysis. Investigators were interested in knowing whether the decedent may have been from Latin America versus a U. Americans than Latin Americans. Given this information, we suggested that the decedent was likely from the continental U.

To track her most recent movements, 10—12 hair strands were sampled; they were oriented at the basal root to distal ends. After cleaning, the hair strands were taped at the root end into a clean tinfoil pouch and submitted for measurement of oxygen isotope ratios. The bundle of hair strands was cut into segments using a razor blade. Segment lengths were measured using calipers.

A uniform growth rate of 0. Each month of the year was defined as This enabled an estimation of the time period represented by each hair segment, with time zero being the basal root end of the hair, representing the time closest to death. Segments that were isotopically very similar — indicating little variation in drinking water inputs during the associated time periods — were averaged. The isotope results in this case was useful in suggesting the decedent was most likely from the U.

These data can provide new investigative leads that may ultimately result in personal identification of the decedent. A Region-of-origin prediction map for Case Study 2 using the oxygen isotopic composition of hair. Water base layer data used for region-of-origin prediction from [ 20 ]. These possible regions include areas within the Western U. B Region-of-origin prediction map for Case Study 2 using the oxygen isotopic composition of hair. Maps created by E. Kipnis, IsoForensics, Inc. A recent increase in migrant border crossings through South Texas has resulted in a rise in the number of migrant deaths along the Texas-Mexico border, which by exceeded the number of migrant deaths along the Arizona-Mexico border [ ].

Migrant deaths are most often caused by heat-related illness and dehydration [ , ], with the majority of fatalities occurring around the Falfurrias checkpoint in Brooks County Texas , located approximately 80 miles north of the border. In , forensic anthropologists from Baylor University and University of Indianapolis began the process of exhuming human remains of deceased unidentified border crossers UBCs buried at a cemetery in Brooks County.

For one of these individuals OpID , a male recovered from Falfurrias, Texas, we sampled a premolar and metatarsal to obtain information on provenance and diet, respectively. Bone collagen data indicate a diet composed of both C 3 and C 4 resources.


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Americans Figure Box-and-whisker plot comparison of bone collagen stable carbon isotope data for a sample of UBC remains from South Texas and a sample of U. Americans partial data set derived from [ ], Figure Box represents the interquartile range IQR and whiskers are 1. Americans than other UBC remains. Figure 5 illustrates an isoscape prediction map of the possible locations where the decedent may have obtained his drinking water and food during childhood.

The darkest gray highlighted areas indicate locations where he may have obtained drinking water based on oxygen isotopes. Similarly, the lighter gray highlighted areas indicate locations where he may have obtained food based on strontium isotopes. The red highlighted areas indicate locations where both oxygen and strontium isotopic predictions overlap, representing the most likely origin.

Oxygen and strontium isotope data based on tooth enamel provide region-of-origin predictions for several areas, including the Western U. Based on these isotope data, these areas cannot be excluded as a possible place of origin for the decedent. However, it is a strong possibility that the decedent was U.

There are at least three possibilities: 1 the decedent is not a UBC but was treated as such in death; 2 the decedent may have spent his childhood years in the U. Additional research is needed to more fully address cases such as this that diverge from the expected pattern of other UBC remains analysed to date.

Region-of-origin prediction map for Case Study 3, remains of an unidentified border crosser OpID , using the oxygen and strontium isotopic compositions of tooth enamel. Water base layer data used for region-of-origin prediction from [ 20 ] and [ 60 ]. The darkest gray highlighted areas indicate locations where the individual may have obtained their drinking water based on measured oxygen isotope ratios of tooth enamel.

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The lighter gray highlighted areas indicate locations where the individual may have obtained their food based on measured strontium isotope ratios of tooth enamel. The red highlighted areas indicate locations where both oxygen and strontium isotopic compositions overlap, representing the most likely regions-of-origin. These possible regions include several areas within the Western U. Map created by B. Tipple, IsoForensics, Inc. It is important that future applications of isotope analysis consider possible roadblocks to progress in forensic anthropology casework. First and foremost is the paucity of nationally or internationally agreed and validated standard operating procedures SOPs for the preparation and analysis of human remains teeth, bone, hair, and nails.

Unfortunately, funding constraints can limit the basic or applied research necessary to develop SOPs and reference datasets that are fit for purpose. Presenting interpreted data in ways that are most useful to law enforcement is another important consideration when introducing isotope testing results to the legal system. Practitioners may need predictive models describing isotopic variation in materials of forensic interest that do not yet exist or exist only on small scales e.

H isotopes of collagen, Pb isoscapes, etc. Finally, the case studies presented herein highlight the fact that a multi-isotopic profile is almost always beneficial for forensic anthropology casework as opposed to analysis of only one or two isotope systems. Analysis of other isotope ratios e. Addition of these other isotope systems to forensic anthropology casework will likely require development of new instrumentation — as well as new reference materials. While isotope analysis has been used for several decades to determine whether samples of chemically similar substances — such as drugs, explosives, paints, plastics, or tapes — may share a common source, applications of the technique to unidentified human remains for forensic profiling purposes are continuing to emerge.

Here, we attempted to provide a brief but comprehensive overview of isotope analysis and its utility to medicolegal cases. Although it is impossible to cover all facets of isotope analysis for human remains testing in a single article, the background, case studies, and references included in this work provide a foundation for forensic anthropologists interested in using this scientific tool to provide investigative leads in their own casework. Daniel Wescott, and Dr. Kate Spradley for their assistance with the UBC samples. Douglas H. Ubelaker for his kind invitation to contribute to this journal issue.

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Journal List Forensic Sci Res v. Forensic Sci Res. Published online Feb Eric J. Bartelink a and Lesley A. Chesson b. Lesley A. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Bartelink ude.

Advances in Forensic Human Identification Advances in Forensic Human Identification
Advances in Forensic Human Identification Advances in Forensic Human Identification
Advances in Forensic Human Identification Advances in Forensic Human Identification
Advances in Forensic Human Identification Advances in Forensic Human Identification
Advances in Forensic Human Identification Advances in Forensic Human Identification
Advances in Forensic Human Identification Advances in Forensic Human Identification
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