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Success Rates of Recovering Teeth and Infant-Sized Bones Dispersed among Leaf Litter

James T. Pokines, Briana J. Purcell, Megan L. Atkinson, Grace S. Kilroy, Makala M. Udoni, Sally Sanders Stark, Shana J. Springman, Breana N. Peace, Madelyn K. Green, Alyssa S. Reinman, Elizabeth Church, Stormy Cassidy, Casey L. File, Aubrie M. Sanchez, Michelle D. Herrera


Previous research (Pokines et al. 2018) examined the success rates of search through leaf litter for older juvenile- to adult-sized bones in a New England forest environment. Individual element size class had a significant effect upon recovery rate. Using the same experimental conditions, the present research examined the recovery rates for infant-sized bones and adult-sized teeth. Ten simulated outdoor scenes were sown with dispersed, skeletonized, infant-sized pig (Sus scrofa) bones of different types and pig teeth comparable in size to adult human. Processing was executed through a hand-and-knee crawl while picking through and collecting all leaf litter by hand and then emptying it onto a tarp, where the effects of searching the same leaf litter twice were examined. Recovery rates from primary search ranged from 62.4% to 74.7% per trial with an overall rate of 68.8%, which was significantly lower than the overall recovery rate of 76.7% for the previous research. Secondary search recovered an additional 17.9% of bone, leading to an overall recovery rate of 86.7%. Teeth were recovered through primary search at an overall rate of 38.0%, with an additional 12.0% recovered through secondary search. Significant differences in recovery rate for the infant-sized remains based upon bone size were noted. Forensic archaeologists are cautioned that full recovery cannot be assumed in these situations. Careful primary searching by hand combined with secondary searching may mitigate the loss of evidence in some situations and should be considered for forensic search protocols, especially where infant skeletal remains are suspected to be present.


forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology, forensic taphonomy, bone dispersal, bone searching methods, infant-sized remains

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