The trouble with surface remains


When a body was never buried or has for some reason been allowed to (partly) surface, it will be exposed to many factors which will either alter its appearance or change its position within/or distance from the crime scene.

For example, rodent gnawing can be so extensive that it can have a big impact on the identification and interpretation of injuries the victim might have suffered prior or at the time of death. Also rodents are known to move the (smaller) bones which can than be found scattered in their tunnels and nests.

Not only animals, but also the weather can greatly affect the state in which bones are recovered. The extend of the damage to the bone will be caused by a combination of the following: which skeletal element is involved (different elements weather at different rates), for how long the bone has been exposed and the direct environment in which the bone lying (e.g. vegetation, sunlight exposure and moisture).

Once a bone is at or near the surface it is obviously exposed to forces which have the capacity to move and/or damage it. Water may wash it away; livestock may trample it; and agricultural activities (e.g. ploughing) may alter its position and distance from the surface.

In all of this we should off-course not forget that movement of remains might be intentional, with or without criminal intent.

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