This little piggy: The effects of post-mortem fire on pig skulls with perimortem blunt force trauma

01st June 2012

Frances Dawson

Cremated human and animal remains are commonly found both in the archaeological record and the forensic setting. Arguably the most common problem associated with burnt bone is fragmentation and it is often unclear whether the bone was fragmented as a result of the fire or was caused by prior trauma. The question then arises if perimortem blunt force trauma can be differentiated from post-mortem fragmentation caused by fire. To address this question a cremation experiment was conducted on 44 pig heads exhibiting perimortem blunt force trauma. Comparisons were made between fresh or “fleshed” (group A) and decomposed (group B) remains, and between fire exposure for two hours (groups A1 and B1) versus four hours (groups A2 and B2). The results show that the duration of burning affects the trauma sites much more than the state of the bone when burned (i.e. fleshed versus decomposed). Experiments show that from a forensic perspective, the presence of flesh aids in establishing the duration of the fire but does not significantly change the shape or size of the trauma sites themselves. These results also have implications for archaeological bone, both in cases where remains have been purposefully burned prior to deposition (cremation), and also those where they have been incidentally burned after deposition.

Frances Dawson
This little piggy: The effects of post-mortem fire on pig skulls with perimortem blunt force trauma
June 2012
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Thesis Abstracts
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