An Analysis of Systematic Elemental Changes in Decomposing Bone

Steven J Walden, Jacqui Mulville, Jeffrey P Rowlands, Sam L Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The aim of this pilot study was to investigate compositional changes in bone during decomposition. Elemental concentrations of barium, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus in porcine bone (as an experimental analog for human bone) were analyzed by inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES). The samples were taken from porcine bone subjected to shallow burial and surface depositions at 28-day intervals for a period of 140 days. Results indicated that ICP-OES elemental profiling has potential to be developed as a forensic test for determining whether a bone sample originates from the early stages of soft tissue putrefaction. Significant changes in iron, sodium and potassium concentrations were found over 140 days. These elements are known to be primarily associated with proteins and/or tissue fluids within the bone. Changes in their respective concentrations may therefore be linked to dehydration over time and in turn may be indicative of time since deposition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-213
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Forensic Sciences
Issue number1
Early online date10 Mar 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • forensic science
  • anthropology
  • bone
  • decomposition
  • spectroscopy


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