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Progressive changes in the properties of bone during soft tissue decomposition

Walden, Steven J. 2017. Progressive changes in the properties of bone during soft tissue decomposition. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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Changes in bone characteristics during soft tissue putrefaction were investigated over 140 days, equating to between 638 and 1450 cumulative cooling degree days (CCDD) depending on ambient temperature using a porcine experimental model in surface and burial depositions. The hypothesis that changes observed in bone characteristics during soft tissue putrefaction could be utilised for possible forensic applications was proved. Human bones were tested for comparison. The techniques used were colorimetric analysis of staining, measurement of micro-crack lengths (in the order of 0.1 to 1.0 mm) on fractured bone surfaces under scanning electron microscopy, inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy elemental profiling, thermogravimetric analysis (TGA), zoological mass spectrometry profiling non-collagenous peptide content, and Vickers hardness testing. The findings pertaining to the experimental porcine bone samples were as follows. Stain colour did not equalise between periosteal and fractured cortical bone surfaces. The fracture is widely considered perimortem if said surfaces are homogeneous in colour and postmortem if different. Observed inconsistences in colour change limit the potential of this technique as a potential forensic test of postmortem interval (PMI). After 28 CCDD, shorter intersecting micro-cracks changed to longer linear micro-cracks tracking lamellae. A longitudinal to tangential Vickers hardness (HV) ratio of 1.5 to 1 associated with minimal decomposition indicated 250 CCDD or less elapsed. The same ratio associated with marked decomposition indicated 1450 CCDD or more elapsed. A ratio of less than 1:1 indicated 250 to 1450 CCDD. Decreases in iron, sodium and potassium concentrations associated with tissue fluids can determine if bone is in the early stages of decomposition. TGA correlation of water loss between 22 and 100˚C with observed changes in micro-crack lengths, HV, and elemental profiles suggested progressive dehydration as the underlying common factor. These techniques demonstrated some potential to be developed as forensic tests of PMI. As no correlation with PMI was evident with proteomic profiling of non-collagenous peptides, no such potential was demonstrated.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Engineering
Uncontrolled Keywords: Forensic; Anthropology; Experimental; Osteo Archaeology; Bone; Decomposition.
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 27 September 2017
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2021 11:00

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