5 June 2014

What can be concluded if bones are found in the searches for Maddie





Interview conducted by Bárbara Baldaia to Professor Eugénia da Cunha, National Consultant for Forensic Anthropology for the National Institute of Forensic Medicine, University Professor of Forensic Anthropology in Coimbra

Bárbara Baldaia [BB] - Seven years later after the disappearance of Madeleine McCann forensic anthropologists are prospecting with a georadar to detect places where there may be accumulation of bones. Eugénia da Cunha, expert in forensic anthropology explains the steps the investigators are taking in the Algarve. When bones are detected the first analysis is immediately done there on the ground.

Eugénia da Cunha [EC] - For example, relatively to the burial position, one can understand if the burial was done in a hurry or not, if the body was thrown carelessly or not, whether there was intent to hide the body or not. Or if, for example, though this is not the case with Maddie, but if the body is with the arms and legs tied, the position of the arms, of the legs, all that gives us extremely important indications. Besides that, there is a brief analysis where we can immediately see if the bones are human bones or not, if they are human then whether they belong to a child, to a teen or an adult, or whether they are from a younger or older adult, or if they belong to a male or a female.

BB - Then it's possible to discover more information about the cause of death in the case of traumas to the body.

EC - Traumas can tell us if they occurred at the time of the death, before or after the death. That is fundamental.

BB - Eugénia da Cunha, who worked in Guinea-Bissau searching for the bodies of Portuguese soldiers [see History of Guinea-Bissau] stresses that there are several causes of death that don't leave traces in the skeleton.

EC - Asphyxia or intoxication won't leave traces. Only a violent trauma, like a violent trauma to the skull will leave traces that will explain what was the cause of death. In this particular case, and since a few years have already passed, in all likelihood the body is already fully skeletonized, there are no soft tissues left. Thus, plenty of information could be stored in the bones and teeth, nevertheless there are many causes of death that will not be stored in the skeleton. The only hypothesis of a trace to be found on the skeleton is if she was violently assaulted.

BB - The cause of death may be difficult to establish, but with a simple DNA analysis done to the bones or to the teeth it is possible to know whether the discovery corresponds to the person being searched.

in TSF radio broadcast on June 4, 2014

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