That coconut ...

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That coconut ...

Post by honestbroker1 » Sun May 26, 2019 3:44 pm

The sample was logged into the ORAU system in the usual manner
and, as in all cases, a sample of bone powder was drilled from the
underside of the specimen using a tungsten carbide drill. The powder
weighed 440 mg. The technician performing this procedure noted that
the material did not behave as bone ordinarily would and did not have
the texture that normal bone exhibits. The technician has a great deal
of experience in the sampling of bone (almost 30 years).
Because of
this uncertainty, and as a precaution, a small amount of the sample
was combusted to measure the % nitrogen remaining. % N is a good
correlate for protein, which is dominated in bone by collagen, and the
measurement of nitrogen offers a simple test concerning whether the
sample is dateable or not. Low % N means that the material is
essentially un-dateable using radiocarbon.
5.6.20 X (ORAU) reported that the Jersey sample only had
0.6 % N. Ordinarily this is too low to yield extractable collagen of any
Despite our concerns, X requested that a fuller
chemical treatment be undertaken, in an attempt to produce a
result, but although some material was extracted it was demonstrably
not collagenous based on the analysis of the texture of the material,
the C:N atomic ratios and the similarly significant lack of nitrogen, so
the sample was formally failed and the States of Jersey Police notified.

5.6.21 A further analysis of the bone sample later the following week by
X and X (British Museum faunal specialist
and one of our collaborators in work undertaken in the ORAU)
concluded that the sample was not in fact bone, but was almost
certainly wood.
It seemed surprising to us that the material could be
so confidently identified by X , and particularly that it could
Page 255 of 383 be determined to be an infant specimen. We informed X of
our concerns shortly afterwards, by phone and e-mail. We stand by our
original assessment. We suggest that the curvature of the material
may have had something to do with the misidentification. We
think it appears to be more like part of a large seed casing, or part of
something like a small piece of coconut.
Certainly, the density of the
material is most unlike bone, it is too light. Our conclusion is that this
sample is: a) not bone and b) not human. We are very surprised that
the forensic archaeologist could be so confident and differ in X
identification. We suggested at the time that a further opinion would be
required, but this not considered by X . A further
analysis of the bone structure under a suitable microscope would
confirm the situation rapidly.
5.6.22 If this sample is bone and close to modern in age, then it would be
unusual in our experience for it to be so poorly preserved and lacking
in collagen.
One would expect normally that for a bone coming from
the last few decades that at least some collagen would survive. In the
absence of collagen, one would conclude that the bone is probably
older than this, possibly by several hundred or even several thousands
of years. In this light, it is not liable to be of forensic interest. Our
assessment is, however, that it is almost certainly not bone and it is for
this reason that we have significant doubts over its forensic
This probably explains the problems we encountered with
the sample and the fact that it is not able to be dated using collagen
extraction techniques.

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