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Minerva Medicolegale 2009 December;129(4):219-31

language: English

Human provenancing of mutilated murder victims through stable isotope profiles

Kemp H. F. 1, Meier-Augenstein W. 1,2

1 Scottish Crop Research Institute, Invergowrie, Dundee, DD2 5DA, UK
2 Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, University of Dundee, DD1 5EH, UK


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Owing to increasing levels of geographic mobility be it in the form of leisure travel or be it in the form of relocation to improve one’s chances for employment and a presumed better life, agencies tasked with establishing a person’s identity face an equally increasing difficult situation. While incidents involving a single person such as seriously compromised or deliberately mutilated human remains are already quite challenging, mass disasters in a multi-ethnic setting such as a terrorist attack in a major city or a natural disaster hitting a favourite holiday destination pose an almost insurmountable problem due to the number of victims and the nature or level of injuries or disfiguration to their bodies. Common to both scenarios is the need for screening tools in support of human identification, that is to say tools that will bring focus to the application of comparing DNA profiles, fingerprints, and odontograms thus increasing the chances of a successful identification by these techniques. Stable isotope profiles obtained from hair, nail, bone, and/or teeth hold the potential to be such a tool since the stable isotope record in human tissue provides a repository of information as to a person’s dietary life style and geographic life history. Information gleaned from stable isotope profiles can provide focus to an investigation (intelligence led policing) or help law enforcement agencies with generating an identikit for an appeal to the public. In support of disaster victim identification stable isotope profiles of human remains may permit screening of victims by geographic provenance, i.e. by presumed national identity since this will increase the chances of finding matching ante-mortem DNA samples or achieving identification through cross-match with DNA from presumed next of kin.

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