Human Remains Examination

Written by Dr. D. Rao


General Description: Arrange bones in anatomic position and draw a skeletal chart indicating which bones are present. Take photographs. The sand, dust or earth present on the bones is removed by brushes and scrapers. Light applications of acetone help to remove tight dirt. If soft tissues are attached, the bones are boiled in water for 6 to 12 hours. After this the soft parts and the periosteum can be stripped off easily with a scrubbing brush.

  1. Human or Animal: It is easy when whole skeleton or entire bones are available. If some of the blood constituents are still present, the precipitin test is useful.
  2. One or more individuals: Reconstruct the skeleton. If there is no disproportion in the sizes of various bones or reduplication, articulation is correct and if the age, sex and race of all the bones is same they belong to one individual.
  3. Sex: It can be determined only after puberty by the examination of pelvis, skull, diameter of head of femur and humerus and measurement of femur, tibia, humerus and radius.
  4. Age at Death: It can be determined from eruption of teeth, amount of wear and tear in teeth, ossific centers, epiphysis union, length of long bones, changes in pubic symphysis, closure of skull sutures, bony lipping, osteoporosis, calcification, osteoarthritis changes, etc.
  5. Race: It can be determined by skull and face measurements, teeth and the relative lengths of the upper and lower limbs.
  6. Stature: Measurements of femur, tibia, humerus and radius by osteometric board and application of Pearson’s formulae.
  7. Identification: It may be established from teeth, disease and deformity of the bone, old healed or healing fractures, orthopedic surgical procedures, regional atrophy, spinal deformities, flat feet, supernumerary ribs, etc. and by super-imposition technique using the skull.
  8. Nature of injury: The ends of the long bones should be examined carefully to find out if they have been cut by sharp that breakage may occur during collection. The shape of a burnt bone is preserved, but it becomes powder when pressed between the fingers. Unprotected bone when burnt undergoes charring, cracking, splintering and calcining, whereas bone embedded in thick soft tissue shows the molten or guttered condition. A bone burnt in the open is white and burnt in a closed fire black or ash grey.
  9. Time since death: No exact time can be given. After the soft tissues disappear remnants of cartilage may remain on the articular surfaces of the joints. Traces of marrow and periosteum may remain in, or attached to the bones for several months. Odor is a good indication of relatively recent death. After the bones have lost their covering tissue and the odour of decay is lost the bones still have an appearance of freshness. Old bones tend to be dry, brittle, chalky and the marrow cavity is dry and free of fat
  1. Cause of Death: It can be made out if there are fractures of skull bones, upper cervical vertebrae, hyoid bone, several ribs, or marks of deep cuts in long bones, or marks of burning or evidence of firearm injuries or any disease. Metallic poisons, e.g., arsenic, lead and mercury can be found in bones long after death..
  2. Manner of Separation: Surgical/Natural skeletonisation/animals etc.

Final opinion:

I am of the opinion that the given bones belongs to sex……. Age……. group………., one/more individual.

The bones are packed, sealed and labeled and handed over to The Authority which ordered for the Examination like The Police/BSI/Coroner.