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Using Ninhydrin to Detect Gravesoil

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Some death scene investigations commence without knowledge of the location of the body and/or decomposition site. In these cases, it is necessary to locate the remains or the site where the body decomposed prior to movement. We hypothesized that the burial of a mammalian cadaver will result in the release of ninhydrin reactive nitrogen (NRN) into associated soil and that this reaction might have potential as a tool for the identification of clandestine graves. Juvenile rat (Rattus rattus) cadavers were buried in three contrasting soil types in Australian tropical savanna ecosystems and allowed to decompose over a period of 28 days. Soils were sequentially harvested and analyzed for NRN. Cadaver burial resulted in an approximate doubling (mean = 1.7 ± 0.1) in the concentration of soil NRN. This reaction has great potential to be used as a presumptive test for gravesoil and this use might be greatly enhanced following more detailed research.
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Keywords: cadaver decomposition; clandestine; forensic science; forensic taphonomy; grave location

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: School of Pharmacy and Molecular Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD 4811, Australia. 2: Centre for Land Rehabilitation, School of Earth and Geographical Sciences, University of Western Australia, Crawley 6009, Australia.

Publication date: March 1, 2008

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