Workshop: Trauma and thermal damage to skeletal elements: keys to identification and interpretation

Determining perimortem trauma, as opposed to antemortem trauma or postmortem damage, then interpreting the how the trauma was inflicted is a prime requirement of practicing forensic anthropologists. Trauma analysis is also important in examination of archaeological material to understand the circumstances of the death and disposition of the remains. Increasingly these two areas, forensic anthropology and bioarchaeology, lean on and integrate information from each other. This workshop examines mechanisms of perimortem trauma, how they can be interpreted, and distinguished from common postmortem events such as thermal damage. Review will cover documentation of defects, limitations on interpretation, and likely questions raised in the legal framework. Perimortem trauma is usually grouped into the broad categories of blunt force, sharp force, and high velocity projectile defects. Fractures due to blunt force trauma occur from many causes including falls, homicidal impacts, and motor vehicle accidents. Such defects arise from impacts or compression over broad areas at lower velocity than many penetrating injuries. Sharp force trauma involves incisions, stabbing and hacking motions with knifes, machetes, and other sharp implements. Often sharp force defects are seen in association with dismemberment activities. High velocity projectile defects commonly refer to gunshot injuries but may include other fast and penetrating implements. Each of these categories has characteristics that are interpretable and may provide information on sequencing and direction of impact. Often the skeletal indicators of such trauma are overlain by thermal and post-fire damage. Thermal damage may mimic perimortem fractures but fire inflicts a pattern of defects to bone that can be separated from pre-fire defects. To understand this pattern, it is important to understand the burning process and when and where bones are subject to destructive forces. Post-fire handling and transportation can also inflict damage.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024, 9:00am-12:00pm

Organized by Alison Galloway (Professor Emerita, UC Santa Cruz), Chelsey Juarez (Fresno State University), Elayne Pope (Burned Bone)