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Identifying Chop Marks on Cremated Bone: A Preliminary Study

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Sciences Volume: 47 Issue: 5 Dated: September 2002 Pages: 933-936
Spencer de Gruchy B.A.; Tracy L. Rogers Ph.D.
Date Published
September 2002
4 pages
This analysis assessed the effects of burning a bone on the hacking trauma inflicted on the bone with a cleaver, along with the diagnostic potential of cleaver marks exposed to fire.
A total of 30 pig forelimbs (radius and ulna) and 30 beef ribs were each subjected to 5 blows with a cleaver and 5 cuts with a knife prior to burning in an outdoor fire. Bones were deliberately agitated to ensure maximum cremation and induce fragmentation. The cremated bone exhibited high fragmentation, cracking, and white and light gray coloration. Chop mark characteristics were largely unaffected by burning, although bone shrinkage due to burning may slightly reduce the size of the mark. The only notable difference between chop marks observed on fresh and burnt bone was the size of the roughened point of exit, which increased when exposed to fire. Extracting the blade from the bone created bone fragments that were burned off during cremation, producing a larger point of exit. Of the 150 chops inflicted on the forelimbs, 99 fragmentary and complete marks were identified on 83 cremated fragments. No conclusive chop marks were observed on the ribs due to the almost complete destruction of these by the fire. The researchers concluded that the successful analysis of trauma on cremated bones is contingent upon the size and condition of fragments, which are significantly influenced by temperature, duration of burning, agitation during burning, the presence of accelerants, the type of wood used, the addition of water, the presence of soft tissues, fresh versus dry bone, cortical versus cancellous bone, proper recovery of elements, and appropriate packaging and transportation of the material. The likelihood of recovering cremated bone is increased when those involved in the process are familiar with the human skeleton and have experience processing fire scenes. 2 illustrative figures and 23 references