Bone Damage in the Antemortem, Perimortem, and Postmortem
Periods: Looking for Traumatic Indications on Bones for Assessing the
Quality of Life of Skeletal Remains
Ledy Ana Zulfatunnadiroh
, Eko Prastyo
, Reinaldy Octavianus Yan Dimpudus
, Myrtati Dyah
Forensic Science Study Program, Post Graduate Studies, Universitas Airlangga, Surabaya
The Department of Anthropology, FISIP, Universitas Airlangga, Jl. Airlangga 4-6 Surabaya 60286, Indonesia
Keywords: Antemortem, perimortem, postmortem, forensic anthropology, trauma
Abstract: The analysis of damages and changes to skeletal remains may help relate to the circumstances of death and
or individual identification. Those changes are, for example, the physical properties of bone. Meanwhile,
trauma refers to physical disturbance of living tissue due to external forces. Trauma and skeletal damage
analyzes include the approximate time of trauma compared to the time of death, the mechanism, and the
kind of forces that have caused the trauma. The materials for this study were 1 individual from the Museum
of Anthropology, and 9 individuals from the collection of human skeletal remains at the Department of
Anatomy and Histology, Physical Anthropology Section, in Universitas Airlangga. We observed the shape,
the colour, and the texture; and analyzed if there were any antemortem trauma and/or abnormality of bones
that happened during the life of the individuals. The damage to the skeletons observed in this research were
mostly postmortem damage. Most of the damages did not show any healing process and appeared brighter
than the surrounding bone, and had a jaggedirregularand sharp edges. However, we also found signs of
abnormal bones that were caused by the poor condition during the life of some of the skeletal remains.
Postmortem damage can be differentiated from the antemortem trauma. This finding is important for further
study in assessing the quality of life of people in Indonesia in the past, and for giving aids during
identification, through unique characteristics observed on the skeletons.
Forensic anthropologists use the principles of bone
biomechanics to support trauma to bones. Bone
biomechanics is determined by the material and
structural properties (intrinsic variables) and the
nature of the load (extrinsic variable) imposed. The
intrinsic variables consist of material properties such
as bone microstructure, cortical thickness, and
trabecular thickness, while structural properties
include bone morphology (ie, size and shape).
Extrinsic variables include the magnitude, direction,
rate, extent of use, and the duration of load applied
to the bone. Simply put, intrinsic variables are
related to weapons or objects that cause injury
(Tersigni-Tarrant & Natalie, 2013).
The analysis of trauma and other changes to the
skeleton can help relate to the circumstances of
death or the identification of individuals. This
change is a change in the physical properties of
bone, whereas trauma refers to the physical
disturbance of living tissue due to external forces.
The conclusions derived from the skeletal trauma
analysis include the relative time spent on the event
of death, and the mechanism or type of force that
causes trauma. Time of trauma can be categorized as
antemortem (occurring before death) or perimortem
(occurring around the time of death). Postmortem
changes are not considered traumatized (because
they do not interfere the living tissue). The
mechanism of trauma is categorized as a blunt force,
sharp, high strength, thermal, or some combination
of these categories (Christensen et al., 2014).
Zulfatunnadiroh, L., Prastyo, E., Dimpudus, R. and Artaria, M.
Bone Damage in the Antemortem, Perimortem, and Postmortem Periods: Looking for Traumatic Indications on Bones for Assessing the Quality of Life of Skeletal Remains.
DOI: 10.5220/0007544404310435
In Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference Postgraduate School (ICPS 2018), pages 431-435
ISBN: 978-989-758-348-3
2018 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
This research material were from 1 individual
skeletal bone collection of Museum of
Anthropology, Faculty of Social and Political
Sciences, Universitas Airlangga and 9 individuals
from Department of Anatomy and Histology,
Physical Anthropology Section, in Universitas
Airlangga. Observation was done by observing the
shape, colour, and texture, as well as analyzing
whether there were antemortem trauma and/or bone
abnormalities that occur during individual life
Figure 1: Zygomatic dextra bone
Figure 2: Ulna dextra bone
Figure 3: Costae sinistra bone
Figure 4: Tibia sinistra bone
Figure 5: Femur sinistra bone
Figure 6: Tibia sinistra bone
Figure 7: Fibula dextra bone
ICPS 2018 - 2nd International Conference Postgraduate School
Figure 8: Cranium bone
Figure 9: Pelvic bone
Figure 10: Sacrum bone
Table 1: Skeletons are observed with the type of period
from its shape, colour, and texture.
According to Table 1, the framework damage
observed in this study was largely postmortem
damage. The damage did not seem to be a healing
process. Zygomatic, ulna, costae, fibula, and
cranium bones fracture had a jagged (irregular)
shape and sharp edge, also appeared to be brighter
than the surrounding bone. Femur sinistra bone had
a not jagged (regular) fracture and the colour was
same with the surrounding bone. However, we also
found abnormal bone marks caused by conditions
during the life of some bones, such as on tibia
sinistra, pelvic, and sacrum bones.
Antemortem trauma, occurring before the time of
death, is characterized by an osteogenic reaction
(new bone formation) of visible healing at the site of
injury, since naturally the reaction occurs when the
individual is alive. Fracture healing can be
demonstrated with the tip of a rounded fracture or
callus formation whereas an infection response is
indicated by a proliferative or lytic lesion
(Christensen et al., 2014).
The presence of antemortem trauma to
unidentified skeletons serves as information that can
be useful in the identification process. Thus, our
ability to recognize, interpret, and know the
antemortem fracture time is the key with accurate
resolution in many death investigations. Most of the
forensic anthropologists are familiar with the basic
healing process of bone fracture, which involves
inflammation, the development of soft callus and
hard callus, as well as remodeling. Therefore, an
understanding of the normal process of bone growth
Bone Damage in the Antemortem, Perimortem, and Postmortem Periods: Looking for Traumatic Indications on Bones for Assessing the
Quality of Life of Skeletal Remains
is necessary for basic anatomical considerations for
bone healing (Boyd & Donna, 2018).
In the pelvic and sacrum bones (Figure 9 and
10), bone abnormalities occured during life. The
pelvic bone was thought to be due to osteoporosis so
that the bone appeared porous (small holes). The
sacrum did not appear to blend between the two
sides (there was a gap) so that it was assumed that
the individual had a history of spina bifida
Pathology refers to the disease, and the
pathological condition is an abnormal anatomy that
is a manifestation of a disease process. The process
of this disease can be due to infection, injury, or
abnormalities. Not all diseases affect the skeleton,
but can manifest as bone changes locally called
lesions. Pathological lesions of bone can be
proliferative, lytic, or deformative. Proliferative
lesions (osteo proliferative) are characterized by
excess bone deposition, while lytic (osteolytic)
lesions involve bone loss (Christensen et al., 2014).
However, a more detailed temporal specification
of antemortem time would be desirable, since a more
precise “dating” would aid palaeopathologists and
forensic anthropologists in interpreting facets such
as medical status and medical care at the time of
death (Boer et al., 2012).
Tibia sinistra bone (Figure 4) had an irreguler
bulge shape, same colour with the surrounding bone,
and rough texture was thought to be ostophytes. The
tibia sinistra bone (Figure 6) appeared to be worn
out (attrition) with smooth surface in the joint or the
meeting of the two bones caused by excessive use
during life.
Repeated mechanical stresses on the skeleton can
cause the bones to adapt their morphology in
response to these stresses. These adaptions are
somestimes called ”markers of occupational stress”
or occupational markers”, in reference to their
origins of often resulting from work-related physical
activities (Christensen et al., 2014).
Trauma to the soft tissues that cause death often
involves bones in deliberate attacks either sharp or
blunt on the persecution, and the type of trauma
around this time of death is called perimortem
trauma (Indriati, 2010). Perimortem trauma refers to
an injury that occurs relatively close to the time of
death, but not necessarily “on” the death time.
Trauma may occur immediately before, during, or
after the death. Perimortem trauma to the bone is
identified as an injury that occurs when the bones
are in a fresh state biomechanically (Christensen et
al., 2014).
In perimortem injury, the pattern of bone
destruction is similar to that of antemortem trauma
but does not indicate a cure or infection response.
Because of the bones are still “greenor fresh when
there is trauma, the fracture tips appear sharp and
clean-not jagged and torn like broken ends of the
shin bone. Compared with postmortem, fresh bone
fractures are often more straight while dry bone
fractures tend to appear jagged. As seen in the femur
sinistra (Figure 5) which had a regular (not jagged)
shape which was estimated to occur in the
perimortem period. Perimortem trauma can provide
valuable information about the cause and/or way of
death (Burns & Karen, 2013; Christensen et al.,
Perimortem trauma is traditionally denoted by
wet or fresh fracture characteristics such as oblique
fracture angles, a smooth fracture surface, and
curved or V-shaped fracture outlines. Conversely,
postmortem damage is denoted by dry
fracture characteristics such as right angles, a
rough fracture surface, and a transverse or jagged
fracture outline. In addition, a lighter coloration of
the fracture surface is consistent with a recent
postmortem fracture (Green & Schultz, 2016). In
literature, there are already many characteristics
known to make the distinction between perimortem
and postmortem fractures like colour, smooth and
rough edges (Scheirs et al., 2017).
The fracture of zygomatic, ulna, costae, fibula,
and cranium bones (Figure 1, 2, 3, 7, and 8) had
irreguler (jagged) shape with sharp edges. Trauma or
postmortem damage is a damage that occurs long
after death. The edges are sharp and the bone tends
to be completely broken, not partially or with a bent
tip like a greenstick fracture (Christensen et al.,
Biomechanically, the reason for different
postmortem fracture is because dry bones respond to
different styles of fresh bone. The living bones
contain moisture and collagen, which gives greater
elasticity (Turner and Burr, 1993). Fresh bones
contain water, which serves to absorb and remove
some energy (called viscoelasticity). When the
bones dry out, the bones no longer have the power to
absorb energy, so the mechanical properties change
and look like inorganic materials. This response is
similar to a branch or twig that dries up its water
content so that it gets easily broken (Christensen et
al., 2014).
During the postmortem period, the loss of the
organic content and moisture changes the
viscoelastic composition of bone, which causes dry
bone to be more brittle and stiff, rather than elastic
ICPS 2018 - 2nd International Conference Postgraduate School
and stiff. As a result, dry bone is less adept at
resisting strain and fractures differently than wet
bone during the perimortem period (Green &
Schultz, 2016). Broken bone surfaces tend to be
smooth in fresh bone, but tend to be grainy and
powdery in dry bone (Jordana et al., 2013). Dry
bone is much more brittle, causing fracture lines to
run along or perpendicular to the grain of the bone
causing jagged edges (Scheirs et al., 2017).
Forensic anthropologists (Maples, 1986, Sauer
1998) have determined that there is a difference
between postmortem and perimortem fracture
patterns. Both perimortem and postmortem trauma
show no sign of healing, but postmortem damage is
recognizable because it looks bright, unlike living
bone, such as where the perimortem fracture is
coloured by bleeding, decomposition fluid, soil or
other materials. The bony ends of the bone damaged
by the postmortem will appear brighter than the
surrounding bone because these surfaces are
exposed for longer periods by the environment.
(Christensen et al., 2014). This is what causes
postmortem trauma to have a brighter color than its
surroundings, as seen in zygomatic, ulna, costae,
fibula, and cranium bones.
However, colours can change again after
alteration due to acquired patina through the years.
This means that, if there is no colour difference, it
does not necessarily mean that the fracture can only
be perimortem (Scheirs et al., 2017).
It is important to distinguish between perimortem
and postmortem, since perimortem events have
much greater forensic involvement. Perimortem
trauma may be caused by a murderer, whereas
postmortem damage is more likely to be caused by
animal excavation or inadvertent excavator use.
Similarly, damage to the skeleton may occur during
collection and transportation (Byers, 2010; Burns &
Karen, 2013), as seen in the ulna bone (Figure 2)
appeared to be caused by sharp object, which might
occur during the excavation.
Postmortem damage can be differentiated from the
antemortem and perimortem trauma. Postmortem
damage can be recognized because it looks bright,
unlike the living bone (still fresh). Fresh bones
mainly consist of organic materials, collagen, and
water. When the bone dries and the water
component is lost, the bones become harder and
stiffer, so the characteristics turn out to be more
fragile and lose their elasticity. The edges are sharp
and the bones tend to be completely broken. This
finding is important for further study in assessing the
quality of life of people in Indonesia in the past, and
for giving aids during identification, through unique
characteristics observed on the skeletons.
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Bone Damage in the Antemortem, Perimortem, and Postmortem Periods: Looking for Traumatic Indications on Bones for Assessing the
Quality of Life of Skeletal Remains