Using Radiocarbon Dating and Paleontological Extraction Techniques in the Analysis of a Human Skull in an Unusual Context

By Ubelaker, Douglas; Houck, Max M. | Forensic Science Communications, October 2002 | Go to article overview

Using Radiocarbon Dating and Paleontological Extraction Techniques in the Analysis of a Human Skull in an Unusual Context


Ubelaker, Douglas, Houck, Max M., Forensic Science Communications


Abstract

A disarticulated cranium and mandible partially encased in an extremely hard plastic material were discovered in a riverbed in Pennsylvania. Several traditional fossil-preparation methods were used to extract the fragile skull from the plastic. Anthropological analysis of the skull indicated it was a male of African ancestry with an age at death greater than 50 years. To clarify time since death, radiocarbon analysis was conducted. The results were compared using the modern bomb curve. The skull revealed pre-1950 levels of radiocarbon, and thus it was not of recent origin.

Introduction

On August 1, 1999, a poorly preserved metal bucket was recovered from a river in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Inside the metal bucket was a smaller, white plastic bucket containing a human skull partially embedded in a gray plastic material. The recovered objects were taken to the local medical examiner to have the skull removed from the plastic matrix and to be analyzed. The medical examiner found the plastic to be very difficult to remove, to the extent that the motor on a bone saw burned out in an attempt to extract the skull. The skull and plastic were then sent to the FBI Laboratory to determine the composition of the matrix and to attempt to extricate and analyze the human remains.

Preliminary Examination

Radiographs revealed a skull with the cranium and mandible disarticulated within the plastic matrix (Figure 1). The disarticulation suggested that the cranium and mandible were most likely skeletonized at the time of their immersion into the liquid plastic. The plastic itself was potentially an important clue. Its chemical composition indicated that it was similar to the plastic used in kitchen countertops, not commonly sold to the public in the quantity that was used to encase the skull.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The removal of the matrix proved to be quite a challenge. The resources of the Smithsonian Institution's Vertebrate Paleontology Preparation Laboratory were drawn upon to remove the plastic atrix with a pneumatic scribe. Several sessions of intensive, meticulous work with the so-called air scribe, used to separate fossils from their geological matrices, were required to extract the delicate skull from the surrounding plastic (Figures 2 and 3).

[FIGURES 2-3 OMITTED]

Once separated from their plastic context, the cranium and mandible were examined for geological materials which, if present, might indicate if the remains had been buried prior to submersion in the plastic. No soil, however, was found on either item. The cranium and the mandible were then analyzed for anthropological information.

Analysis

The bone was well preserved with no soft tissue or hair present. The posterior portion of the left ramus of the mandible and the bones of the right cheek area were missing. These areas did not show obvious signs of recent fracture, but it could not be determined if the damage was peri- or postmortem. However, the coloration of the broken margin of the right zygomatic suggested relatively recent fracture. Numerous teeth were missing both ante- and postmortem.

The general robusticity of the remains, especially the large supraorbital ridges, suggested male sex. Discriminant function analysis of cranial measurements (Ousley and Jantz 1996) also suggested male sex.

The extent of cranial suture closure, antemortem tooth loss, and age-related changes in tooth structure suggested a relatively old age at death. In particular, application of the Lamendin technique (Lamendin et al. 1992; Prince and Ubelaker 2002) for age estimation from characteristics of single rooted teeth to the right maxillary canine indicated an age at death greater than 50 years. This technique produced an age estimate of 60.2 years, plus or minus about eight years. All of the collectively available information for estimating age suggested the remains originated from a mature adult, probably greater than 50 years of age. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Using Radiocarbon Dating and Paleontological Extraction Techniques in the Analysis of a Human Skull in an Unusual Context
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.