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Law enforcement officers work on a burial excavation
Law enforcement officers work on a burial excavation at the Anthropology Research Facility (also known as the Body Farm) on June 13, 2019. Photo by Steven Bridges/University of Tennessee.

Two UT anthropology faculty members have been awarded a $212,738 grant from the National Institute of Justice to develop a protocol to correctly identify blunt-force fractures made before death from burned human remains.

Burned human remains are often the focus of medicolegal examinations, but heat can obscure or degrade marks of trauma. It is difficult to differentiate between fractures caused by blunt force and ones caused by heat. A standard measure for examining burned remains would provide investigating agencies a critical quantitative tool for understanding evidence.

Giovanna Vidoli, research associate professor, and Joanne Devlin, distinguished lecturer, will use digital X-ray technology to examine burned remains to develop a numerical coding system to document fracture patterns in the three-year-project. Both women are associate directors in UT’s Forensic Anthropology Center, which is home to the world-famous outdoor anthropology facility commonly known as the Body Farm.

In the second phase of the project, the team will compile a guide outlining the coding system, including X-ray images and descriptions. A group of professional forensic anthropologists and medical examiners will use the materials to test the guide’s efficacy and calculate an error rate.

NIJ is one of the US Department of Justice’s Office of Justice programs and is tasked with disseminating state-of-the-art knowledge and practices to law enforcement agencies across the country.


Karen Dunlap (865-974-8674,

Amanda Womac (865-974-2992,

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