Forensic Taphonomy: A Complete Overview


The study of what happens to a body between death and recovery is known as forensic taphonomy. It mostly integrates archaeology and forensic science expertise. In many situations, anthropologists’ contributions to taphonomic evaluation are the most crucial. This is especially relevant when it comes to interpreting skeletal evidence in the case of foul play.

In other words, The study of fossilisation from organic remains is known as taphonomy. It includes searching at soft tissue changes, breakdown rates and patterns, the dispersion of bodily components, and the changes that happen to both soft tissues and bone.

Taphonomic analysis has recently emerged as a critical component of forensic anthropological investigation. In forensic contexts, the reconstruction of perimortem and postmortem processes, as well as the distinction of natural from human-induced trauma, are particularly important.

It is the study of the mechanisms through which organic remnants transfer from the biosphere into the lithosphere as a result of geological and biological processes, as described by Efremov in 1940. The study of the fossilisation process sparked interest in the area within palaeontology. Archaeologists later realised how important it was to understand taphonomic processes in order to correctly interpret human changes of biological materials.

Subfields of Forensic Taphonomy

Forensic Taphonomy is Divided into two Subfields:
1. Geotaphonomy and,
2. Biotaphonomy.

Geotaphonomy: Geotaphonomy is the study of how a person who buries a body affects the surrounding geological and botanical environment, as well as how the body itself affects the surrounding geological and botanical environment. Postmortem processes that geotaphonomists are particularly interested in include soil disturbances, tool mark impressions found along the walls of burial shafts, footprints at the bottom of graves, disruption of vegetative growth, modification of natural water courses and erosion patterns, and variations in the pH of proximate soil.

Biotaphonomy: Biotaphonomists study the body’s remains to determine how the soft and hard tissues decomposed and were destroyed. Environmental (i.e. climate and animals), individual (i.e. age, health, and body mass), and cultural (i.e. funerary practises and autopsy processes) factors all affect biotaphonomic variables.

While pathology can assist in determining the cause of death, taphonomy can assist in determining what occurred to the remains before, during, or after death. To put it another way, you need to be able to tell which happened before death and which occurred after death in order to appropriately determine a cause of death.

In forensic anthropology, taphonomic interpretation has taken on a significant and distinctive role. In past environmental reconstruction, determination of postmortem interval, reconstruction of the sequence of postmortem events, and evaluation of trauma and pseudotrauma, taphonomic aspects must be taken into account.

Confusing issues

All of these issues necessitate a thorough investigation of such remains by a forensic anthropologist:
• Weathering cracks might seem to be the same as those caused by blunt force impact.
• Spiral fractures can be induced by trampling and carnivore gnawing, which are comparable to those caused by foul play-related damage.
• Fungus can create a blackening of the bones that looks like it’s been burned.
• Sharp force damage might look a lot like carnivore tooth marks.

Factors that caused Taphonomic damage

Taphonomic damage is caused by a variety of factors:
• Rockfall,
• water transport,
• Sandblasting,
• weathering,
• Burial,
• diagenic movement,
• Volcanic shockwave,
• Acid assault by roots,
• Cryoturbation,
• Release and breakup by bottomfast ice, and,
• Mineralization by ground water, etc.

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