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Fragmentation of calcined bone: Aspects relating to improving recovery of calcined bone from fatal fire scenes Open Access


Other title
Forensic Anthropology
Calcined bone
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Waterhouse, Kathryn
Supervisor and department
Beattie, Owen (Anthropology)
Examining committee member and department
Thompson, Tim (School of Science & Engineering)
Harrington, Lesley (Anthropology)
Garvie-Lok, Sandra (Anthropology)
Losey, Robert (Anthropology)
Le Blanc, Raymond (Anthropology)
Department of Anthropology

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Burning has a significant effect on the human body. Soft tissue is burnt and bone is significantly altered as water and organic content is lost. These changes cause bone to become brittle, fragile and prone to fragmentation, complicating recovery of remains. In an effort to maximize remains recovery, reduce unnecessary destruction and enhance anthropological evaluation, this research aims to increase our understanding of some factors that affect burnt bone fragmentation. Key elements affecting burnt bone fragmentation were identified by conducting a review of fatal fire deaths in Alberta over a ten year period. The effect of decedent age on remains fragmentation was investigated with results showing that younger bone typically fragments less than older bone burnt in similar burn environments. Investigations into the effect of delayed recovery on bone fragmentation outlined the time line of remains destruction and highlighted the need for rapid recovery whenever possible. Finally, the effects of temperature and rainfall on remains fragmentation were assessed and results identify the destructive effects of freezing conditions, temperature fluctuations and damp conditions. All investigations were conducted using Sus scrofa (domestic pig) limbs burnt in wood fires and altering the variables decedent age; time until recovery; and season of burn event. Data presented in this thesis will enable scene investigators and scene managers to reduce post-burning remains destruction, ensure efficient, maximum value recovery protocols are employed and appropriately prioritise remains recovery within the context of the scene. These improvements are vital to maximise anthropological assessment of burnt bone and to ensure legal and moral obligations to recover all human remains from a fatal fire scene are met.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
Waterhouse, K. (2010). A review of fire deaths in Alberta. Canadian Journal of Forensic Sciences. 43(4), 171-180.

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