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Establishing a Rank Order for Skeletal Element Sampling: Examining Differential DNA Yield Rates Among and Between Buried Human Skeletal Elements as Compared to Surface Recovered Skeletal Elements

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2019
18 pages

This is the Final Summary Overview of the findings and methodology of a study with the following objectives: 1) Determine whether the patterns of DNA preservation previously observed in skeletal remains associated with above-ground processes of decomposition hold true in a burial; 2) Develop a rank order of skeletal elements based on DNA quantity and quality; and 3) Determine whether skeletal DNA degradation is related to bacterial colonization.


Project subjects were three donated human cadavers from the University of Tennessee's Forensic Anthropology Center (FAC) Body Donation Program. The three bodies were interred together in a single grave in February 2013 and were left undisturbed until March 2017. Methodologies are described for the bone sampling and soil sampling. Data analysis is described for bone and soil/bacteria. The research found that the percentage of STRs recovered did not significantly differ by body region; and of the bones that were sampled from three sites, total DNA was greater in both the humeral and femoral heads compared with their respective midshaft and distal end. Analysis of the soils in the grave area showed minimal lateral transfer of decomposition products. The total abundance of bacteria in bone was found to be an unreliable predictor of human DNA concentration. Human DNA testing from the foot bones showed similar success across surface and sub-surface bone samples. Regarding implications of these findings for criminal justice policy and practice, they advance a DNA sampling rank-order of success for all skeletal element types particular to human remains recovered from a burial. 2 tables and a listing of citations

Date Published: March 1, 2019