Maceration Techniques for Human Fetal and Perinatal Bone

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Rhian Dunn
Micayla Spiros
Nicholas Passalacqua
Joseph Hefner


Forensic anthropologists working with cases that vary in stages of decomposition are often required to process and macerate remains to complete a forensic analysis. Maceration techniques vary between laboratories, and procedures to facilitate maceration of fetal and perinatal remains are lacking in the literature. This descriptive case study evaluates the use of several maceration techniques for fetal and perinatal remains (n = 2), including cold-water bacterial maceration, hot-water enzymatic maceration, dehydration, and incubation. Dehydration is a new maceration technique previously unpublished. For each technique, the authors assessed ease of maceration, effect on bone quality, and utility for forensic casework and/or donated remains and found all techniques are easy to implement and do not greatly diminish bone quality. Previous research recommends hot-water enzymatic maceration for forensic casework, as it will not degrade DNA and can efficiently remove soft tissues. This case study corroborates this recommendation but finds that incubation may be preferred for fetal remains, as it is quicker and less labor intensive. However, cold-water maceration and dehydration are recommended for donated fetal remains. Cold-water maceration is low maintenance, minimally malodorous, and preferable for disarticulated teaching materials, since this technique avoids any heat-induced warping of fetal bones. Dehydration retains cartilaginous structures and allows for the preservation of articulated elements for comparative specimens in donated collections. By demonstrating several techniques for fetal and perinatal maceration, this case study serves as a starting point toward the creation of general guidelines for forensic anthropology practitioners.

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