How the Dead Speak to Forensic Scientists

by M-Gillies

Known as dactyloscopy, fingerprinting as a system of identification was developed from the work of Sir Francis Galton by Sir Edward R. Henry. In 1901 Scotland Yard quickly applied the science to its investigations and it became the basis for its criminal-identification records.

For any Forensic scientist, the term “Mortui Vivis Praecipiant” is the perfect mantra to describe exactly what their profession is. Latin for “Let the Dead Teach the Living” the modern Forensic scientist has become an increasingly beneficial asset when it comes to identifying the remains of a body. With natural disasters and malicious intent contributing to the death toll of people around the world, sometimes these unfortunate deaths can make the identification process a challenging task.

Since the days of dusting for fingerprints, the art of forensic science has since seen incredible advancement with the use of modern technology. It is with this improvement that unidentified bodies and closed cases, which have for years been unacknowledged, have since seen an opportunity of being solved. Through these modern advancements Forensic scientists have been able to determine the identity of many formerly unidentified bodies through at least eight methods, which include:

1. Fingers, As far back as the late nineteenth century, fingerprint identification methods were widely used by many police agencies around the world to aid in identifying criminals as well as the victims of crime. Even by today’s standards, fingerprints have become known universally for forensic evidence and has increasingly become known as the most respected method for identifying a person.

2. Teeth, Unlike fingerprints or DNA, there is no database for identifying individuals based on teeth, however Forensic Dentists are able to use teeth or even a single tooth for identification, provided an x-ray of person’s mouth is readily available. In some cases when this is not possible, digital photographs can be taken of the teeth in order to compare to a smile in a previous photograph of the victim.

Because the enamel of a tooth is harder than any other substance in the human body, as well as their ability to withstand temperatures of more than 2,000 ‚àûF, teeth have proven to be highly useful when identifying bodies that have been badly burned.

3. Bones, From the moment skeletal remains are found, it is up to Forensic scientists to determine whether the bones are human or not. It is only after this is determined that bones can assist Forensic scientists in determining characteristics such as sex, age and race, as well as stature and weight. When it comes to the pathology of skeletal remains, Forensic scientists are able to determine the cause of death, whether homicide was involved, and in some cases, identify the murderer.

4. Skulls, With advanced technology, computer graphics are able to perform facial reconstruction to estimate a deceased person’s appearance. Similarly to skeletal bones, scientists are able to determine sex and race based on the structural features of the skull, however with the aid of computer graphics, they can also discover much about the soft tissue in the ears and nose, as well as how much fat a person had on their face.

5. Hair, Though determining the results through a person’s hair can be contentious at best, with multiple factors effecting the results, including the area on the body from where the hair was taken. The hair color, the person’s age and race, even external substances such as air pollution, composition of water used to wash hair and materials used to treat hair, can prove beneficial in the identification process.

6. Joints and soft tissue, If someone has something surgically implanted inside of them by a surgeon, it’s a guarantee that 100 percent of the time it will have a documented serial number on record. While they were originally intended to speed recall of defective devices and ensure the safety of patients, for medical examiners, this could mean closing the case and giving comfort to the family of the identified based on these small codes. With this, serial numbers on implants and prosthetics have now been seen as being used more frequently to identify John and Jane Does.

7. Skin, At some point in our lives we are bound to gain some form of scar, blemish or mark that will forever be stamped on our bodies as part of our appearance. Whether it be a scar from surgery, an accident or assault, these bodily characteristics on an individual can be used to support identification in conjunction with medical or police records. For people who’ve gained such scars from operations or surgeries, the dates of such operations should be in the person’s medical records and the medical examiner will attempt to relate this to the age of the scar. However, if the body is partially or severely decomposed, identifying these marks and determining their importance may become more of an obstacle.

8. Feet, The analysis of footprints is a special part of forensic science. With two current forms of identifying a person based on this anatomical area, identification can be gained from records kept by podiatrists while examining and treating a patient, while the second method is using the marks left by objects that the person may have come in contact with, particularly when including ground surfaces into the factor. Even toe nails can be a helpful method of determining a DNA match.

Read More:

8 Body Parts Forensic Scientists Us to ID a Body | Forensic Science Technician




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