Examination of exhumed, decomposed or cremated animal remains – is it worth it?

Our lead forensic veterinary pathologist speaks at UCL Forensic Archaeology, Anthropology and Ecology Symposium

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At UCL’s Forensic Archaeology, Anthropology and Ecology Symposium in June 2017, Alex presented an overview of investigative questions which may be asked in forensic veterinary cases, involving various taphonomic (decomposition) processes, and the benefits of a holistic approach.

There is a wide spectrum of investigations in which animal remains might be presented to a veterinary pathologist for forensic examination. These include, but are not limited to, abuse of individual or groups of animals, animals present at the scenes of other crimes (e.g. arson), wildlife crime, and conflict surrounding identification and ownership.

Cases involving animals may be investigated during any stage of the taphonomic process, or after one or multiple types of decomposition or destructive process. Reasons may include delayed recovery of remains for investigation, deliberate attempts at destruction or concealment, incidental means of decomposition, or investigations being opened following legitimate disposal of remains.

The probative value of evidence obtained from the examination of animal remains in cases involving exhumation, advanced decomposition, or cremation were outlined by Alex during his talk. He demonstrated a multidisciplinary approach in order to maximise the quantity and quality of evidence and intelligence obtained.  The cases presented demonstrated that, although forensic evidence of sufficient probative value cannot be obtained in all cases, useful forensic intelligence can often be recovered in even the most profound cases of post mortem changes.  Therefore, examination of remains should not be abandoned based on the state of animal remains alone.  Moreover, close consultation between the investigatory and scientific teams should be encouraged to manage expectations and explore the evidence and/or intelligence which can be recovered.

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