Volume 41, Issue 4 (July 1996)
The Wrong Urn: Commingling of Cremains in Mortuary Practices
Personal identification of human skeletal remains altered by the heat of crematory furnaces in modern mortuaries may be complicated by the presence of more than a single individual in a sample. When identification of cremains of neonates and young children is required in legal disputes, as in cases where relatives suspect that a funeral establishment has presented them with the ashes of another individual, the forensic anthropologist may be consulted by their legal representative.
Problems to be considered in personal identification of cremated bodies are (1) presence or absence of commingled remains in a sample; (2) identification of one or more individuals present. Methods used in sorting and identifying neonate, infant and pre-adolescent remains include reconstruction of stature in situations where long bone diaphyses are preserved, as this may provide evidence of age at time of death, and assessment of dental crown development of unerupted and erupted deciduous teeth also for age determination. These procedures were used in the case reported here concerning mortuary practices of a funeral home and a family claiming that they were presented with the cremains of an adult and not those of their 15-hour-old daughter.