Quantifying microcracks on fractured bone surfaces – Potential use in forensic anthropology

Steven Walden, Wendy Rowe, Jacqui Mulville, Sam L. Evans, Peter Zioupos

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Bone fracture surface morphology (FSM) can provide valuable information on the cause of failure in forensic and archaeological applications and it depends primarily on three factors, the loading conditions (like strain rate), the ambient conditions (wet or dry bone material) and the quality of bone material itself. The quality of bone material evidently changes in taphonomy as a result of the decomposition process and that in turn is expected to affect FSM. Porcine bones were fractured by a standardised impact during the course of soft tissue decomposition, at 28-day intervals, over 140 days (equivalent to 638 cooling degree days). Measurements of the associated microcracks on the fractured cortical bone surfaces indicated a progressive increase in mean length during decomposition from around 180 μm–375 μm. The morphology of these microcracks also altered, from multiple intersecting microcracks emanating from a central point at 0–28 cumulative cooling degree days, to longer linear cracks appearing to track lamellae as soft tissue decomposition progressed. The implications of these findings are that taphonomic changes of bone may offer the real possibility of distinguishing perimortem and taphonomic damage and also provide a new surrogate parameter for estimation of post-mortem interval (PMI) in forensics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105824
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials
Early online date3 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023


  • Bone microcracks
  • Forensic archaeology/anthropology
  • Scanning-electron-microscopy (SEM)


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