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Commingled and Unprovenanced: A Case Study Highlighting the Utility of Multiple Techniques for Testing Investigative Leads

Lindsay H. Trammell, Chelsey Ann Juarez, Cris E. Hughes

Abstract


Unprovenanced skeletal remains were located by law enforcement in a private residence in rural Missouri. Forensic anthropological assistance was requested to determine the origin and medicolegal significance of the material. The homeowner provided written documentation that the remains were legally obtained from an archaeological site in Guatemala; however, police expressed concern they were actually illegally looted and retained from a local historic African American cemetery. The recovered skeletal material was inventoried and a minimum number of individuals established based on crania and cranial fragments. The ten most complete crania were subject to further analyses. Assessment of biological profile, DNA analyses, and stable isotopes were utilized by three forensic anthropological practitioners to address three hypotheses of potential origin. Based on the collaborative results, none of the recovered skeletal material tested was from the proposed region of Iztapa, Guatemala. Data indicate that at least two of the recovered crania cannot be ruled out as being from the historic African American cemetery. However, results show it is likely the skeletal material is representative of multiple historic sites within the central and eastern Missouri region. This case emphasizes the need for utility of collaboration within the forensic anthropological field.

KEYWORDS: forensic anthropology, stable isotopes, DNA


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5744/fa.2018.0011