Radioactive isotope analyses of skeletal materials in forensic science: a review of uses and potential uses

Cook, G. T. and MacKenzie, A. B. (2014) Radioactive isotope analyses of skeletal materials in forensic science: a review of uses and potential uses. International Journal of Legal Medicine, 128(4), pp. 685-698. (doi:10.1007/s00414-014-0970-8)

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Abstract

A review of information that can be provided from measurements made on natural and anthropogenic radionuclide activities in human skeletal remains has been undertaken to establish what reliable information of forensic anthropological use can be obtained regarding years of birth and death (and hence post-mortem interval (PMI)). Of the anthropogenic radionuclides that have entered the environment, radiocarbon (14C) can currently be used to generate the most useful and reliable information. Measurements on single bones can indicate whether or not the person died during the nuclear era, while recent research suggests that measurements on trabecular bone may, depending on the chronological age of the remains, provide estimates of year of death and hence PMI. Additionally, 14C measurements made on different components of single teeth or on teeth formed at different times can provide estimates of year of birth to within 1–2 years of the true year. Of the other anthropogenic radionuclides, 90Sr shows some promise but there are problems of (1) variations in activities between individuals, (2) relatively large analytical uncertainties and (3) diagenetic contamination. With respect to natural series radionuclides, it is concluded that there is no convincing evidence that 210Pb dating can be used in a rigorous, quantitative fashion to establish a PMI. Similarly, for daughter/parent pairs such as 210Po/210Pb (from the 238U decay series) and 228Th/228Ra (from the 232Th decay series), the combination of analytical uncertainty and uncertainty in activity ratios at the point of death inevitably results in major uncertainty in any estimate of PMI. However, observation of the disequilibrium between these two daughter/parent pairs could potentially be used in a qualitative way to support other forensic evidence.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Cook, Professor Gordon and MacKenzie, Professor Angus
Authors: Cook, G. T., and MacKenzie, A. B.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre
Journal Name:International Journal of Legal Medicine
Publisher:Springer Berlin Heidelberg
ISSN:0937-9827
ISSN (Online):1437-1596
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2014 Springer
First Published:First published in International Journal of Legal Medicine 128(4):685-698
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.

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