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ТОМ 4, СТ. X (сc. X) // Апрель, 2003 г.

DETERMINATION OF THE BURIAL TIME OF SKELETAL REMAINS

A. Garmus, R. Bojarun,
Institute of Forensic Medicine, Vilnius, Lithuania



  << Contents

 

There are up to one hundred of anthropological investigations performed each year by the Laboratory of Osteology at the Lithuanian Institute of Forensic Medicine. The material for examination includes skeletal remains which are usually found by general public when caring out building excavations. However a discovery of sewer decomposed corpses on the earth's surface or in the water is also not uncommon.

When objects thought to be skeletal remains are found, one of the most difficult question need to be asked and where possible, answered is: "how long have they been dead and/or concealed?"

An investigation searching to resolve this problem involves the following steps:

  • visual inspection,

  • an investigation under a macroscope,

  • histological examination,

  • an evaluation of the bone surface and sections in the ultraviolet light.

1. An investigation of bones found
on the earth's surface or in the water

One investigating skeletal remains which have rest on the earth's surface or in the water for different time periods (of up to 1,5 years, from 1,5 to 3 years, from 3 to 5 years) can notice that most of the specimens belonging to a certain time group represent quite distinct features (table 1).

Table 1. Macroscopic and microscopic features observed on the surfaces and in the cross-sections of bones founded on earth surface or in the water.

No

Observed

features

from 0,5 to 1,5 years

from 1,5 to 3 years

from 3 to 5

years

Macroscopy

1.

Adipocered soft

tissues

partial presence

small remnants

no

2.

Surface discoloration

whitish-yellowish

greyish-whitish,or

yellow-brownish

(soil contact)

greyish, or

whitish (on earth)

3.

Organic smell

enamates

no

no

4.

Surface adipose

soaking

full or halfway

islands rarely

no

5.

Traces of erosion

no

no

starting

scarification

Microscopy

6.

Bones porous

tissue¢ s filling with

adiposed mass

fully

partially or parafin

shaped

no

7.

Blood vessels

content

blood

blood

seldom blood

8.

Haversian channels content

empty

empty

empty or filled

with adipose masses

9.

Bones structure

changes in

cross-section

no

no

no

10.

Colour of the

ultraviolet light

fluorescent in

cross-section

non-fluorescent,

or whitish-bluish

line outern

slightly bluish

whitish blue,

sometimes strong

11.

Rough weight

heavy

heavy

lighter

1.1. Bones features in the time period of up to 1,5 years

- there is a partial presence of adipocered soft tissues;

- the bones display a whitish-yellowish discoloration and emanate a foul organic smell;

- the macroscopic view of the cross-sections of the bones does not indicate distinct changes in the structure of long bones. The compact tissue is halfway or fully adipose-soaked, the long bone marrow cavity and skull vault porous tissue is fully filled with adipose mass,

- the microscopic examination of the bones slices reveals blood in the nutritional vessels and shows empty Haversian channels;

- in the ultraviolet light the cross-sections of the bones are non-fluorescent and only a whitish line of a bluish tint can be observed on the outer bones surface.

1.2. Bones features in the time period of 1,5-3 years

- only small patches of dried or curdled soft tissue remnants in the ligaments fixation places and natural cavities can be noticed.

- the parts of bones having had contact with soil usually present a greasy surface having dark yellow-brownish discoloration, microscopic examination of which shows no traces of erosion;

- the external aspects of bones which have been more or less influenced by environmental conditions look dry, porous, with traces of separate splits showing a greyish - whitish discoloration. There is no stratification of the external skull plate,

- the bone compact tissue is adipose-soaked, adipose wax masses are observed in the bone marrow cavities, in the skull vault porous tissue adipose wax masses are paraffin-shaped,

- histological examination reveals no changes of the bone structure, the blood in blood vessels and empty Haversian channels,

- the cross-section of the compact tissue is of a whitish color showing slightly bluish luminescence in the ultraviolet light.

1.3. Bones features in the time period of 3-5 years

- there is no remnants of ligaments or cartilages on the outer bones surface. In very rare cases tiny patches of soft tissues can be observed;

- bones are lighter in weight. The bones surface is dry, bleached with no adipose reflection representing deep, quite long infractions. The external skull plate demonstrates the signs of starting stratification;

- the skull vault of younger individuals gets deformed due to a partial separating of the bones sutures,

- there is no adipose wax masses in the long bone marrow cavities;

- microscopically bone structure indicates no changes, blood vessels seldom contain blood, Haversian channels are either empty or partially filled with adipose masses,

- in the ultraviolet light the bone compact tissue fluorescence with a rather strong whitish blue color.

2. An investigation of bones found in soil

Bones could remain in soil under different conditions - in dry sand (in a pine grove), in damp black soil (in a fir-grove) or in marshy soil, so it is rather complicated to monosemantically generalize burial time (table 2).

Table 2. Macroscopic and microscopic features observed on the surfaces and in the cross-sections of bones founded in the soil.

No

Observed

features

from 1,5 to
3 years

from 3 to
8 years

from 8 to
15 years

over 40-50 to 100 years

Macroscopy

1.

Adipocered soft

tissues

small quantity

a few ligaments and cartilagines

no

no

2.

Surface discoloration

whitish-

yellowish

from whitish

-yellowish, to

yellowish-

brownish

from yellow

to brownish

from dark

yellow to

brown

3.

Organic smell

enamates

sometimes

no

no

4.

Surface adipose

soaking

distinct

greasiness

greasy

no

no

5.

Traces of erosion

no

onset of

scarification

scarification

and separate infractions

scarifications,

infractions,

stratifications

Microscopy

6.

Bones porous

tissue¢ s filling with adiposed mass

partial

no

no

empty, or con-

tains remnant of blackish mass

7.

Blood vessels

content

blood

empty, or

seldom blood

empty

empty

8.

Haversian channels content

empty

empty, or

partially filled with adipose mass

partially, or fully filled

with adipose

mass

empty

9.

Bones structure

changes in

cross-section

no

no

no

surface minera-

lization till in

0,5-1,5mm depth

10.

Colour of the

ultraviolet light

fluorescent in

cross-section

no

as rule

whitish-

bluish or

violet-greyish

brithly-

violet

bluish-violet,

greyish-violet

11.

Rough weight

heavy

heavy

heavy

light in weight

Note - Bones samples remained in soil over 15 to 40 years in our laboratory not investigated.

2.1. Bones features in the time period of up to 3 years

- there is a small quantity of soft tissues on bone surface which itself shows no noticeable changes, except distinct surface greasiness;

- the cross-sections of bones compact tissues are adipose-soaked, the blood vessels contain blood, the marrow cavities and porous tissues are filled with adipose masses,

- histologicaly blood vessels contain blood, Haversian channels seem to be empty,

- as a rule there is no fluorescence in this time interval.

2.2. Bones features in the time period from 3 to 8 years

- only few ligaments and cartilages can be observed on the bone surface which looks greasy with onset of scarifications;

- marrow cavities and the skull vault porous tissue contain remnants of adipose masses,

- the adipose-soaked patches in the cross-section of long bones can be still observed;

- microscopical investigation enables to detect the blood in vessels and adipose wax masses in Haversian channels;

- in the ultraviolet light bones give fluorescence with a whitish - bluish or violet-grayish color.

2.3. Bones features in the time period from 8 to 15 years

- bones are heavy, show no surface greasiness, the microscopic examination reveals scarifications, in some cases separate infractions can be observed on the surface, some areas indicate stratification of the external skull plate surface layer;

- in the cross-section of long bones compact tissues contain no adipose-soaked patches,

- there is no adipose masses in the long bone marrow cavity and the skull vault porous tissue,

- the external surface of compact tissue displays no signs of mineralization;

- histologicaly the blood vessels contain no blood, Haversian channels are partially or fully filled with adipose masses,

- the cross section the compact tissue brightly fluorescence with a violet color.

2.4. Bones features in the time period of more than 30-40 years

No investigations of such kind of bones has been carried out in the laboratory.

2.5. Bones features in the time period over 40-50 to 100 years

Such kind of bones usually having survived since the War#2 or the post-war period are submitted to the laboratory very often. The main features of them can be described as follows:

- the bones are light in weight, dry, the color varies from dark yellow to brownish or brown;

- the surface contains many scarifications and infractions, the stratification of the skull vault exterior plate is observed;

- the porous tissue and marrow cavities are empty or contain remnants of a blackish crumbling mass,

- in the cross-section the compact tissue in the depth of 0,5-1,5 mm is mineralized, whereas in deeper layers the bone structure is well preserved,

- microscopically the blood vessels contain no blood and Haversian channels look empty,

- in the ultraviolet light the compact tissue always fluorescence well with a bluish-violet, bright violet or greyish - violet color.

Final note

The mentioned data are only preliminary, especially when the bones have been found in the soil. It depends on the absence (as usually) of preliminary information concerning the sort of the soil from which the bones have been excavated.

вверх

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