8th Experimental Archaeology Conference abstract – Smith

Fantastic Plastic? Investigating the potential of polyurethane bone substitutes in ballistic experiments.

Martin Smith

Bournemouth University, UK

Recent years have seen growing interest in the study of weapon related trauma to the skeleton in archaeological samples and forensic casework. In order to recognise particular types of trauma accurately, comparisons need to be made with experimentally observed signatures relating to specific mechanisms of injury. In archaeological samples violence related trauma is most commonly observed in the cranium, not least because this is the part of the skeleton where such patterns are most easily recognised. Due to the unique proportions and dimensions of the human brain, animal crania are poor proxies for those of humans, whilst the enclosed nature of the cranium renders flat areas of animal bone less useful as experimental substitutes. A possible solution is presented by the appearance of polyurethane bone substitutes designed originally to train orthopaedic surgeons and purported to be appropriate for ballistic testing. This paper presents the results of a range of experiments impacting polyurethane replicas of different broad types of bone with a variety of mechanisms of trauma (including modern firearms, black powder muskets and crossbows) in order to assess the extent to which this material offers a reliable comparator in attempts to identify mechanisms of skeletal injury in humans.

Karger, B. and Teige, K. (1998) “Fatalities from black powder percussion handguns” Forensic Science International 98, 143-149

Krenn, P., Kalaus, P. and Hall, B. (1995) “Material Culture and Military History: Test-Firing Early Modern Small Arms” Material History Review, 42, 101-109

Smith, M.J., Brickley, M.B. and Leach S.L. (2007) “Experimental evidence for lithic projectile injuries: Improving recognition of an under-recognised phenomenon” Journal of Archaeological Science 34, 540-553

Thali, M.J., Kneubuehl, B.P., Zollinger, U. and Dirnhofer, R. (2002) “The ‘Skin–skull–brain model’: a new instrument for the study of gunshot effects” Forensic Science International 125, 178-189


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