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Recent Applications of Isotope Analysis to Forensic Anthropology

NCJ Number
Forensic Sciences Research Volume: 4 Issue: 1 Dated: 2019 Pages: 29-44
Date Published
16 pages

This article identifies and discusses the basic principles of isotope analysis and provides an overview of instrumentation, analytical standards, sample selection, and sample quality measures, concluding with case studies that reflect the diverse applications of isotope analysis to the medicolegal system.


Isotope analysis has become an increasingly valuable tool in forensic anthropology casework over the past decade. Modern-day isotopic investigations on human remains have integrated the use of multi-isotope profiles (e.g. C, N, O, H, S, Sr, and Pb) as well as isotopic landscapes ("isoscapes") from multiple body tissues (e.g. teeth, bone, hair, and nails) to predict possible region-of-origin of unidentified human remains. Together, data from various isotope analyses provide additional lines of evidence for human identification, including a decedent's possible region-of-birth, long-term adult residence, recent travel history, and dietary choices. The overall view of this article is that isotope analysis is a flexible and powerful geolocation tool that can provide new investigative leads in cases of unidentified human remains. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2019