Seeing saw marks in dismembered bone

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  • Published: Jul 7, 2014
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: UV/Vis Spectroscopy / Atomic / MRI Spectroscopy / Infrared Spectroscopy / Raman / Chemometrics & Informatics / NMR Knowledge Base / X-ray Spectrometry / Base Peak / Proteomics

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Watch the forensic science programs on TV and you get the impression that even the most difficult cases can be solved quickly with a bit of lateral thinking and a host of impressive looking equipment in the lab. But real life is not quite like that as we all know.

In some of the nastier cases where dismemberment of a body has occurred, one of the classical forensic analysis techniques is to examine the marks left in the bone by the cutting tool. This can be carried out easily under a microscope but scientists in France have just developed a new technique which will make it easier to help identify the type of saw and its characteristic tooth pattern. Writing in Forensic Science International, they proposed that introduced epifluorescence might provide a lot of the answers.

Bones automatically fluoresce when they are irradiated with light and this formed the basis of the technique. The team used to hacksaws to make ten false starts and ten full cuts into pig bones and analysed the cuts with a macroscope using a halide bulb for illumination. The physical zoom was only up to 9.2 but this was sufficient for these purposes.

Similarities between the cuts allowed the saws to be identified as a hacksaws, while yielding further information about the shape and set of the teeth. In addition, even though the shape, set and teeth-per-inch of the saw teeth were identical, they left obvious physical differences in the bones which allowed the saws to distinguished from each other, like the shape and profile of the cut and the striations on the wall. The false starts also produced individual features.

So, the epifluorescence emitted by sawn bones looks like it could be a valuable forensic tool, one which does not damage the evidence as it is completely non-invasive. It could be brought in to investigate current cases or be applied retrospectively to older cases or to archaeological bones to provide insight into the events after death.

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