Genetics

Updated 05 August 2013

7 ways forensic scientists ID bodies

Here are seven different ways in which bodies can be identified after a disaster, or when a single unidentified body is found.

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Here are seven different ways in which bodies can be identified after a disaster, or when a single unidentified body is found.

Fingerprinting
If the fingerprints are in good shape and the person has fingerprints on record, these can be cross-referenced and used to identify the body. After a few days in water, this may, however, no longer be possible.

Dental records
Since teeth take longer to decay, they are an extremely valuable and rapid method of identification. Experts say this is as good as fingerprints, provided access to the patient’s dental records is available. Teeth can be used to identify someone years after they have died. Enamel is the hardest substance in the human body.

X-rays
Can be used to match body parts with each other. This method was used extensively after the Twin Towers attack, in which very few of the victims' bodies were found intact.

DNA
DNA samples from the victim’s toothbrush or hairbrush can assist with identification. DNA from relatives can also be used. This method is used more and more frequently.

Family members and friends
If this is logistically possible, and the body is still recognisable, visual identification by a family member can be helpful. This is, however, not conclusive. There have been many cases in the past in which one body has been 'claimed' by several people.

Marks on the body
Birth marks, scars, burns, defects or other attributes which are unique to the person could be valuable indicators.

Medical interventions
If someone has been fitted with a pace-maker, or a prosthetic hip, or has had some other identifiable medical intervention, it makes identification a lot easier.

Read more:

Hand germs used to identify victims, criminals

(Thania Gopal, Susan Erasmus, Health24.com, updated July 2013)

 

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