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What information can you learn from a skeleton?

In this short article, Dr Katherine Linehan reveals how our skeleton holds an extensive record of our lives.
© The University of Sheffield

Our skeleton is an extensive record of our lives. The food we eat, the rate at which we grow as a child, the injuries we sustain, whether we have given birth; all can be determined from our bones. In cases where the identity of the deceased is unknown, the skeleton can be key in determining who the person was in life.

Experts can determine sex, age, and ethnicity, relatively easily from the skeleton, with the skull and pelvis playing pivotal roles in this analysis. Later this week, we’ll be taking a more detailed look at how to determine sex and ethnicity from a skull.

Teeth can reveal information about diet and a comparison between dental records of the deceased and the recovered skull is often the primary method of identification.

The bones of the skeleton can disclose injuries, illnesses or surgical procedures that occurred during life and they can also give an indication of the occupation of the deceased.

Experts are able to determine if damage to the skeleton has occurred post mortem and the nature of that damage. This allows inferences to be drawn regarding the cause of death and whether the location where the body was discovered was the location where the individual died.

Every skeleton tells the story or osteobiography of an individual’s life. In the next step, we’ll discover what information the police could learn about Mr. X from the information written in his bones.

© The University of Sheffield
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