Technical note: early post-mortem changes of human bone in taphonomy with μCT

Int J Legal Med. 2017 May;131(3):761-770. doi: 10.1007/s00414-016-1509-y. Epub 2016 Dec 29.


Post-mortem interval (PMI) estimation is an important issue in forensic medicine, particularly for criminal purposes and legal limitation periods. The goal of the present study is to examine the evolution of the trabecular cranial vault bone after 4 weeks of conservation in a controlled environment with micro-tomography (μCT) analyses.Four bone samples were extracted from a fresh human cranial vault (a donation to science according to the French law) and conserved in an air-controlled environment. The samples were weighed and μCT scanned at a 10-μm resolution every week after death for a month. The μCT features were identical for every sample. Each set of data from the μCTs was reconstructed, registered, and analyzed in terms of the total volume, bone volume, bone surface, number of trabeculae, trabeculae thickness, and mean distance of the trabeculae. The samples were conserved in a glass box in 20 °C air with 60% humidity in a laboratory hood between each μCT acquisition. Descriptive statistics were determined. Each sample was observed and compared to itself over time.After 1 month of conservation, the mean bone volume (-1.9%), bone surface (-5.1%), and trabecular number (-12.35%) decreased, whereas the mean trabecular separation (+5.55%) and trabecular thickness (+12.7%) increased. Many variations (i.e., increases and decreases) were observed between the extraction of the sample and the end of the 4 weeks of conservation. The present observations may be explained by bone diagenesis. Previous observations have indicated that protein and lipid losses occur with bone weight and volume losses. These diagenesis effects may explain the trabecular modifications observed in the present work. We observed many bone variations with the μCT scans between the beginning and the end of the conservation that had no explanations. Additional studies, particularly studies involving statistics, need to be performed to confirm our observations and explain these results more clearly.

Keywords: Forensic anthropology; Forensic science; MicroCT; Post-mortem interval; Taphonomy; Technical note.

MeSH terms

  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cancellous Bone / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cancellous Bone / pathology
  • Environment, Controlled
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Male
  • Postmortem Changes*
  • Skull / diagnostic imaging*
  • Skull / pathology
  • X-Ray Microtomography*