A University of Wolverhampton forensic scientist is
investigating new ways of pinpointing the time of death in
Christopher Rogers is researching how cartilage could be used to
identify the time that has elapsed since a person has died.
Cartilage could prove useful to investigators as it does not
have a blood supply and therefore breaks down more slowly than
PhD student Christopher, from the School
of Applied Sciences, has been researching how cartilage
deteriorates by burying pig trotters in soil to replicate the
effect of human burials in shallow graves.
The team left the trotters for varying amounts of time and then
Christopher found that crystals form on the cartilage after
three weeks and start to disappear after six, enabling them to
identify the time of death. This result was consistent over the
three years of the study and in hundreds of examples.
Christopher, who is due to complete his PhD this year, said:
“The findings could be useful in determining how long a person has
been dead for, which is an important question in a suspicious death
investigation. It could also help to identify a suspect or
“There has been little research into cartilage degradation
post-mortem, but it is useful as it is contained within a trotter
so is protected from the effects of the environment. This would be
the case for a human body too, as cartilage is protected by muscle
The tests included looking at the trotters macroscopically to
see if there was any visible changes, such as colour. They also
analysed the trotters using a scanning electron microscope, which
identified the formation of crystals.
As well as being useful in suspicious death cases, the process
could also be used for wildlife forensics, for example
investigating allegations of poaching. If a carcass is discovered
outside of legitimate circumstances, the analysis could be used to
date the time of death.
The findings were presented at the Forensic Research and
Teaching conference in Coventry recently.
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Date Issued: Tuesday, 27 July 2010
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