Body modifications as a tool to aid human identification

  • Alexandra Starkie

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Forensic human identification draws upon a plethora of information from various investigatory techniques. Body modifications are identifiable characteristics that have received mention in the field of human identification, but which have not been explicitly investigated. This research was conducted in order to highlight the potential body modifications have to aid the identification process, and to demonstrate the information that can be retrieved from common modifications such as tattoos and piercings. In order to demonstrate the pertinence of body modifications to the field of forensic human identification a survey was distributed nationally (UK) to determine the incidence of body modification practices. These surveys were novel in their application as they did not target any sub-group of the population. 880 viable responses were collected both digitally and on paper. Results included; 89% of female respondents displaying bi-lateral earlobe piercing, 38% of female respondents reporting at least one piercing at a location other than their earlobes, and 28% reported at least one tattoo. 17% of male respondents also reported at least one piercing and 24% at least one tattoo. Inferences can be made that every fourth or fifth male and every third or fourth female will have at least one modification requiring recording. 69 modified respondents took part in a second survey which detailed their experiences of becoming modified, enabling an insight into the considerations and motivations the process of acquiring a piercing, tattoo or other modification involves. A 28 month taphonomical study of both surface and buried deposits was undertaken in order to investigate the location of trans-dermal artefacts such as earrings in relation to the skeletal elements and their original location after decomposition occurred. Artefacts moved to a depth of at least 6cm below the confirmed base of the grave, and to a distance of at least 120cm from the original location.Jewellery and tattoo inks are internationally produced and traded. Tattoo inks are manufactured without specific guidelines ascertaining or requiring disclosure of their ingredients. 88 tattoo inks were investigated, completing the most extensive investigation of tattoo inks to date. The successful implementation of investigatory techniques such as Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR), UVspectroscopy and Microspectrophotometry (MSP) along with statistical analysis using Principal Component Analysis (PCA) enabled the successful discrimination between manufacturing companies. It highlighted the inconsistency in production of inks from batch to batch by each manufacturer, and the ink’s own instability over periods of storage. This significantly compromises the ability to determine conclusively an ink’s manufacturer from its chemical composition, though inferences of manufacturer can be made after ratio and PCA analysis are conducted. Body modifications are therefore considered significant possible aids to the identification process.
Date of Award1 Apr 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Teesside University
SupervisorTim Thompson (Supervisor), Meez Islam (Supervisor) & Tracy Shildrick (Supervisor)

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