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The Potential of X-Ray Diffraction in the Analysis of Burned Remains from Forensic Contexts

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In view of the difficulties in extracting quantitative information from burned bone, we suggest a new and accurate method of determining the temperature and duration of burning of human remains in forensic contexts. Application of the powder X-ray diffraction approach to a sample of human bone and teeth allowed their microstructural behavior, as a function of temperature (200–1000°C) and duration of burning (0, 18, 36, and 60 min), to be predicted. The experimental results from the 57 human bone sections and 12 molar teeth determined that the growth of hydroxylapatite crystallites is a direct and predictable function of the applied temperature, which follows a nonlinear logistic relationship. This will allow the forensic investigator to acquire useful information about the equilibrium temperature brought about by the burning process and to suggest a reasonable duration of fire exposure.

Keywords: burned bones and teeth; cremated remains; forensic anthropology; forensic science; hydroxylapatite; powder X-ray diffraction

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Unitat d’Antropologia, Department de Biologia Animal, Biologia Vegetal i Ecologia, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain. 2: School of Science & Technology, University of Teesside, Borough Road, Middlesbrough, UK. 3: Department of Chemistry, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy.

Publication date: May 1, 2009


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