The use of diatoms in forensic science: Advantages and limitations of the diatom test in cases of drowning
Zlatko Levkov, David M. Williams, Dragica Nikolovska, Slavica Tofilovska, Zdravko Čakar, 2017. "The use of diatoms in forensic science: Advantages and limitations of the diatom test in cases of drowning", The Archaeological and Forensic Applications of Microfossils: A Deeper Understanding of Human History, M. Williams, T. Hill, I. Boomer, I. P. Wilkinson
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Diatoms are unicellular, photosynthetic, eukaryotic organisms often classified as among the algae. There are around 15 000 known species, but many more have yet to be described. Their uniqueness lies in the siliceous covering of the cell, each being encased in a pair of silica valves. Silica is virtually inert and indestructible, so after the organism’s death the silica parts remain. The silica parts provide information for the classification of these diverse organisms. Diatoms have been used in forensic science in a variety of ways, the most frequent being the diagnosis of death by drowning. When a person drowns, water will enter the lungs and then enter the bloodstream through ruptures in the peripheral alveoli before being carried to the other organs such as the liver and heart. Naturally, the microscopic contents of the water, which will include diatoms, will pass into the blood as well. The detection of diatoms in the organs can contribute to a diagnosis of death by drowning, a process referred to as the ‘diatom test’ We will discuss this test in more detail, illustrating our discussion with real examples.
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The Archaeological and Forensic Applications of Microfossils: A Deeper Understanding of Human History
Microfossils are an abundant component of the sedimentary rock record. Their analysis can reveal not only the environments in which the rocks were deposited, but also their age. When combined, the spatial and temporal distribution patterns of microfossils offer enormous utility for archaeological and forensic investigations. Their presence can act as a geological ‘fingerprint’ and the tiniest fragment of material, such as a broken Iron Age potsherd, can contain a microfossil signature that reveals the geographical source of the materials under investigation. This book explores how microfossils are employed as tools to interpret human society and habitation throughout history. Examples include microfossil evidence associated with Palaeolithic human occupation at Boxgrove in Sussex, alongside investigations into human-induced landscape change during the Holocene. Further examples include the use of microfossils to provenance the source materials of Iron Age ceramics, Roman mosaics and Minoan pottery, in addition to their application to help solve modern murder cases, highlighting the diverse applications of microfossils to improving our understanding of human history.