Identifying a Body without DNA

In this day and age with advanced technology, DNA testing is widely used to identify human remains even when the body is partially dissolved, cut up, or burned. Sometimes, however, it is better to use other methods of identification because DNA testing can be expensive and in the case of remains not preserved well, not effective.

There are 3 alternate ways to identify a body:

  1. Dental x-rays and Dentures

Unique dental aspects, like “tooth root curvature, tooth position, impacted teeth, extra teeth, and tooth crown anomalies” often are preserved even if other parts of the body do not (“3 Ways to Identify”). Any x-rays taken before the decedent died can be compared to any taken after the person died. Dentures work almost the same way. They are uniquely shaped and formed for each person who uses them, and some today are inscribed with the name or initials of the person they belong to, which makes identifying the owner even easier.


2. Surgical Implants

Because surgical implants are constructed of highly durable materials, and often placed deep in the body, they usually survive the conditions that cause the rest of the body to deteriorate. They also are usually marked with serial numbers that can be traced back to the specific patient they belong to. Examples of these surgical implants include hip and knee prosthetics, pacemakers, or coronary artery stents (“3 Ways to Identify”).

3. Skeletal diseases or injuries

Certain diseases can cause enough damage to the skeletal system that it can be used to identify a body if only bones are found. Diseases such as tuberculosis, syphilis, or psoriasis can do so much damage that it is visible in an x-ray (“3 Ways to Identify”). Fractures or already healed breaks in bones can also be clues to the identity of a person. Any unique fractures can be compared to recent medical records and compared to the decedent for matches.

Even though DNA is often the more convenient route to go, it is not always possible if the body is in poor condition. These methods are commonly used when other techniques are not possible, and can be highly accurate if the tests are performed correctly.

Source: “3 Ways to Identify a Body When DNA is Not An Option.” Forensic Outreach. N.d. Web. 6 Mar. 2016.




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