Stable Isotope Analysis in a Humanitarian Context
Tuesday, March 12, 2019 2:45:00 PM UTC - 4:30:00 PM UTC
Duration: 1 hour(s) 45 minute(s)
This webinar will introduce stable isotope analysis and its validity as analytical tool in establishing the geographic origin and life history of unidentified individuals from forensic and humanitarian contexts.
When an unknown body is discovered, one of the fundamental goals of forensic investigation is to establish the individual’s identity and return the deceased to their family. While personal identification methods such as comparison of antemortem and post-mortem medical and dental records as well as DNA analysis have been used to establish individual identities, there are circumstances in which additional information beyond these methods is necessary. In such cases where comparison with missing persons reports and DNA is not feasible - or even possible because geographic origins are unknown - the use of stable isotope analysis is a viable option for determining provenance and has been used successfully in a number of forensic cases to determine regional origins. Isotopes are chemical forms of the same element that differ in the number of neutrons. The quantification of stable isotope ratios in human tissues identifies the chemical signature of water and food consumed during an individual’s life. Different tissues of the body that form over different time intervals (e.g., hair, nails, bone, and teeth) can be employed, and their signatures can reveal information about an individual’s dietary history, region(s) of origin, and mobility. From a forensic standpoint, such information proves critical in efforts to identify individuals without documents or medical records. For example, this investigative tool could be beneficial in identifying the numerous immigrants that have died while trying to reach Europe by land and sea. Greece is among the countries that recently suffered such fatalities as it serves as a conduit between Asia and Africa to Europe. In particular, the island of Crete, is a popular entry point to Europe and a popular tourist destination. During the “hot” months (March –October), a large number of tourists and seasonal job seekers from different countries and other parts of Greece come to the island. The current project will create the first ever stable isotope ratio baseline for Crete (Greece). This will serve as a chemical tracker of origin and mobility in a region which constitutes a common entry point to Europe for refugees from conflict zones, economic immigrants, and drug traffickers. Detailed Learning Objectives: 1. What are stable isotopes 2. What information can be extracted from stable isotope analysis 3. What are the potential forensic applications in a Humanitarian context Funding for this Forensic Technology Center of Excellence event has been provided by the National Institute of Justice.