Forensic anthropology is the application of biological anthropology to the legal context. Forensic anthropologists can provide valuable information for criminal investigations, human rights cases, mass disasters, and archaeological studies. However, forensic anthropology also faces many challenges and limitations, especially when it comes to ascertaining the cause of death. This article will explain why cause of death can rarely be ascertained because most fatal afflictions leave no trace on bone, and what are the implications and solutions for this problem.
What is Cause of Death and How is it Determined?
For example, a gunshot wound to the chest, a heart attack, or a bacterial infection can be causes of death.
To determine the cause of death, forensic anthropologists rely on the examination of the skeleton, as well as other sources of evidence such as soft tissues, clothing, personal belongings, crime scene, and witness statements. They look for signs of trauma, disease, or abnormality that can indicate the cause of death.
Why Most Fatal Afflictions Leave No Trace on Bone?
However, not all causes of death leave traces on bone. In fact, most fatal afflictions do not affect the skeleton at all, or only affect it in subtle and nonspecific ways. This is because the skeleton is a highly resilient and dynamic structure that can withstand and repair many injuries and diseases.
Some examples of fatal afflictions that leave no trace on bone are:
- Poisoning: Most poisons do not affect the bone structure or chemistry, unless they are ingested in very high doses or for a long period of time. Even then, the effects may be difficult to detect or distinguish from other factors.
- Asphyxiation: Asphyxiation is the deprivation of oxygen to the body, which can result from strangulation, suffocation, drowning, or carbon monoxide poisoning. Asphyxiation does not cause any visible changes to the skeleton, unless there is associated trauma to the neck or chest.
- Infectious diseases: Many infectious diseases, such as influenza, tuberculosis, malaria, or HIV, can cause death by affecting the internal organs, the blood, or the immune system. However, they rarely affect the skeleton, unless they cause secondary complications such as osteomyelitis, periostitis, or arthritis.
- Cardiovascular diseases: Cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack, stroke, or aneurysm, can cause death by disrupting the blood flow to the vital organs. However, they do not affect the skeleton, unless they cause bone infarction, osteonecrosis, or pathological fractures.
What are the Implications and Solutions for this Problem?
The fact that most fatal afflictions leave no trace on bone has important implications for forensic anthropology and the legal system. It means that in many cases, the cause of death cannot be determined from the skeleton alone, and that other sources of evidence are needed to establish the cause of death. It also means that the cause of death may be misinterpreted or overlooked, especially if the skeleton is incomplete, damaged, or poorly preserved. This can have serious consequences for the identification of the deceased, the investigation of the crime, and the administration of justice.
Therefore, forensic anthropologists need to be aware of the challenges and limitations of determining the cause of death from the skeleton, and to use various methods and approaches to overcome them. Some possible solutions are:
- Using a multidisciplinary team: Forensic anthropologists should collaborate with other experts, such as forensic pathologists, toxicologists, odontologists, and geneticists, to obtain a comprehensive and accurate assessment of the cause of death.
- Using multiple lines of evidence: Forensic anthropologists should use all the available sources of evidence, such as soft tissues, clothing, personal belongings, crime scene, and witness statements, to corroborate or supplement the skeletal evidence.
- Using statistical methods: Forensic anthropologists should use statistical methods, such as Bayesian analysis, to estimate the probability of the cause of death, based on the skeletal evidence and other factors.
- Using new technologies: Forensic anthropologists should use new technologies, such as computed tomography, mass spectrometry, or molecular biology, to detect and analyze the subtle and specific changes that some fatal afflictions may cause to the skeleton.
Cause of death can rarely be ascertained because most fatal afflictions leave no trace on bone. This is a major challenge and limitation for forensic anthropology and the legal system. However, forensic anthropologists can use various methods and approaches to overcome this problem and to provide reliable and valid information about the cause of death. Forensic anthropology is a complex and fascinating field that requires constant learning and improvement.
[Poisoning and the Skeleton: A Forensic Anthropological Approach – ScienceDirect] : [Asphyxia and Its Effect on the Skeleton: A Forensic Anthropological Perspective – ScienceDirect] : [Infectious Diseases and the Skeleton: A Forensic Anthropological Approach – ScienceDirect] : [Cardiovascular Disease and the Skeleton: A Forensic Anthropological Perspective – ScienceDirect] : [The Role of Forensic Anthropology in Cases of Fatal Firearm Injuries: A Review – ScienceDirect] : [Forensic Anthropology and Medicine: Complementary Sciences From Recovery to Cause of Death] : [Bayesian Approach to Estimating Cause of Death from Skeletal Remains – ScienceDirect] : [Advances in Forensic Anthropology: Methods and Applications]