Forensic chemistry

Forensic chemistry is a theme that covers a very wide and varied range of research topics. In line with other areas of activity in the OGU, work carried out in this area concerns the organic geochemical analysis of soils to answer questions relating to criminal activity.

In addition, research is also done to broaden what we know about how organic residues and artefacts, that might be used as evidence, are altered by being left in the open or buried in the natural environment. Ongoing work is focussed on seeing how the decomposition of a dead body affects biological, chemical and physical aspects of the soils surrounding or immediately beneath the body.

This is achieved by analysing the organic components in soils obtained from actual crime scenes, graves and various laboratory degradation studies. It is hoped that molecular profiling of primary and/or secondary metabolic products may be developed to eventually become a useful and reliable means for sourcing organic inputs (e.g. adipocere) to soils where there are no longer any remains of an input that identifiable by eye and/or where DNA techniques are not usable.

Further related work involves studying the effect that burial has on the long-term preservation of biological remains, e.g. adipocere and bones. Specifically, we are interested in whether the molecular make-up of such artefacts and stable isotopic composition of these compounds is retained under conditions of prolonged burial (and if not, then how they change).

Such information is very useful when using molecular and/or stable isotope results to investigate the history of biological remains. Much of this work has been developed from earlier Archaeological Chemistry studies and another aim of this work is to use information obtained from such modern-day studies to help interpret site use in Antiquity.

Further reading

Bull, I. D., Berstan, R., Vass, A. and Evershed, R. P. (2009) Identification of a disinterred grave by molecular and stable isotope analysis. Science and Justice 49, 142-149.

Forensic chemistry is a theme that covers a very wide and varied range of research topics. In line with other areas of activity in the OGU, work carried out in this area concerns the organic geochemical analysis of soils to answer questions relating to criminal activity.
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