In From the Cold: Using Cultural Context in the Reconstruction of Cause of Death

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date


Faculty Sponsor

Samantha Blatt


The biological profile alone is not always enough to reconstruct individual identity and cause of death from forensic cases. Ethnographic inquiry of context can be essential, especially for poorly recovered and temporally historic remains. This case study provides an example of the usefulness of ethnographic inquiry in building a contextual reconstruction of identity. For the case at hand, human skeletal remains, minimal clothing, and a rifle were recovered in the 1980's from Albion Idaho. Through standard methods for reconstruction of the biological profile, the individual was identified as a missing male of 30-44 years of age, who disappeared in the winter of 1920. As part of the subsequent investigation, with use of scene photography, analysis of skeletal weathering, and interviews with local ranchers, it was possible to narrow down personal identification and construct a plausible scenario of death. Results of combined skeletal, contextual, and ethnographic data suggest that the individual was a local Ferrier who was unexpectedly trapped during a hunting trip due to a change in weather. Specifically, the individual most likely succumbed to hypothermia and exposure, but only after attempting to start a fire with his rifle, a common yet little known local practice. This case study can demonstrates to both law enforcement and other investigators how important situational and cultural contextual data can become when identifying skeletal remains and cause of death.

This document is currently not available here.