Searching for Clues: How inter-disciplinary communication can breathe new life into investigations
There are many cases worldwide involving the missing and the disappeared. The ongoing search for clandestine graves, the families given hope when a possible location has been found, only to learn that it was another negative result. There have been many stories in the media that report the discovery of human skeletal remains out-of-context. Although, in many cases there are indications that the skeletal remains recovered have been used for decoration or ritual; there is little indication as to where the bones were acquired. Were the skeletal remains from a cemetery, medical/anatomical collection or from a possible murder victim? Using examples from both research and practice, this presentation aims to demonstrate the benefits of communication between disciplines in the development of new techniques and strategies in casework and research. Of particular interest in this presentation is the use of the Field Portable X-Ray Fluorescence in cases involving human remains. The Field Portable X-Ray Fluorescence (FPXRF) is commonly used to test various materials. In soils, it can be used to test for contamination in environmental industries; in construction, it is used to verify that the materials used are up to regulation. It can be used to check the purity of jewelry and the metal content in material submitted to scrap-yards. It is also possible to test human skeletal remains with this equipment to attain an indication of the mineral composition without any loss of evidence due to the non-destructive nature of the testing. This aids in not only identifying the chemical composition of the human skeletal remains tested, but also has provided information on the post-mortem treatment of the remains, the post-depositional environment and the suitability of the sample for further analytical testing. Furthermore, the equipment has been assessed to determine its potential for aiding in the search for clandestine burials and the identification of leachate plumes. By looking at the levels of contamination to the soil chemistry caused by the decomposition process, it is possible to determine the extent of a leachate plume, narrowing down the search radius. This fully portable equipment provides a unique way to assess the scene quickly, non-destructively and without disturbing any potential evidence prior to collection. Presented are techniques that have been developed through the communication of experts from forensic anthropology, archaeology, geology and police search teams. These methods could provide a rapid on-scene assessment to indicate the potential provenance of human skeletal remains when discovered out-of-context or assist in the location of a clandestine grave.