Forensic Fractography of Bone: A New Approach to Skeletal Trauma Analysis

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Angi M. Christensen
Joseph T. Hefner
Michael A. Smith
Jodi Blakely Webb
Maureen C. Bottrell
Todd W. Fenton


Fractography is the study of fracture surface morphology, and it can be used to assess a material’s mechanical properties as well as to determine the underlying mechanisms leading to material failure. Fracture surfaces reveal information about fracture initiation and propagation in bone, yet little consideration has been given to bone fracture surfaces in forensic contexts. Moreover, the science of fractography has never been applied to bone in forensic anthropological contexts. Here we test the application of principles of fractography to the analysis of fractured femoral cortical bone to assess the utility of fractography in the forensic analysis of skeletal trauma. We find that features, which we term bone mirror, arrest ridges, bone hackle, wake features, and cantilever curl, can be used to reliably determine the point of fracture nucleation and direction of fracture propagation. These features can generally be seen with the unaided eye and are further enhanced using oblique lighting, contrast medium application, and low-power microscopy. This approach is reliable and can be easily and inexpensively applied in forensic anthropological examinations.

KEYWORDS: forensic anthropology, fractography, bone, trauma analysis

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