How to put a name to a (skull) face Part 3- DNA

December 27, 2012

We have looked at teeth, mastoid processes and supraorbital ridges which are all good ways to help identification of remains… but with our current state of knowledge, arguably the most effective technique we have is DNA.

Deoxyribonucleic Acid or DNA is the stuff that makes you you.  In essence it is like an molcular instruction manual, telling your cells what to do, when to do it and how to do it.  What makes DNA great for identification purposes is that it is slightly different in every individual (except those pesky twins!), but has similarities that are carried through families.

DNA identification is not totally fool proof and there are a few things that might mean that it is not possible in some cases.  For instance, you need something to compare it to.  Even if a forensic scientist can get DNA from an unidentified skull, if there is no family member to compare it to then it might not help in the identification process.  Luckily for the scientists looking for our old buddy Ned, they did have access to the DNA of some of his living distant relatives.

This is how they knew that this handsomely headless chap below was indeed Ned Kelly.

Picture credit: Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine

It is also how they were able to find out that the skull handed in 2009 by a Mr. Baxter was not.  Is the skull in the posession of the New Zealand witch the real deal?  That remains to be seen….

But now that we have come full circle back to Ned Kelly this will be the last of the skull identification posts for a while.  If you really liked them or there was a topic you were hanging out for that we missed let us know, we are happy to revisit the concept!

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