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Frozen Human Bone: A Microscopic Investigation

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The taphonomic effects of prolonged extreme cold and freezing on human bone have received little research attention. Questions of specific interest include whether previously frozen bone can be identified and whether freezing alters the structural integrity enough to prevent histological aging. There is no evidence from previous studies that freezing damages the structural integrity, and to date no research investigating the freezing process on bone microstructure has been undertaken. This research attempts to distinguish histologically previously frozen bone from nonfrozen bone by identifying patterned defects. To determine the effects of freezing in bone microstructure using light and scanning electron microscopy (SEM), several human bone sections were subjected to prolonged freezing and allowed to thaw before thin sectioning. Light microscopy failed to demonstrate statistically significant differences between frozen and nonfrozen specimens. SEM analysis revealed fractures, although these lacked pattern and did not occur systematically throughout the section. Evidence of microstructural changes caused by liquid expansion, however, was remarkable but did not alter the structural integrity of the microstructure. The results of this study suggest that freezing does not alter the process of histomorphological analysis.
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Keywords: bone histology; forensic anthropology; forensic science; frozen human bone; scanning electron microscope

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, Central Identification Laboratory, Hickam AFB, Hawaii 96853-5530.

Publication date: January 1, 2007

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