Volume 34, Issue 2 (March 1989)
Use of the Cranial Base in the Identification of Fire Victims
Techniques exist for using the cranial base to estimate the race and sex of skeletalized individuals in forensic science cases. The applicability of these techniques to remains of fire victims has been uncertain because of possible cranial-base shrinkage that may result from burning. To determine the amount of shrinkage resulting from low-temperature burning (< 800°C), the cranial bases of eight dissecting room cadavers were measured, the bones then burned, and the cranial fragments remeasured. The wet-bone measurements were compared to the burned-bone measurements, and the percentage of shrinkage was calculated. The average change from wet to burned bone is less than 1.00%, a figure in agreement with other published studies. Since a change of 1.00% is less than intraobserver error, it is argued that low-temperature burning—such as an average house fire—does not significantly impair the accuracy of the identification techniques. Therefore, the techniques should be applicable to many fire victims.