Thursday, May 15, 2008

Forensic Geology

Today's forensic geology has a futuristic quality to it. Forensic geology is just what it sounds like, solving crimes with geology.

Its roots are with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes." Even though Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was only writing fictional stories, several criminologists of his day used the same thought process to solve important crimes.

With only a microscope and deductive reasoning, they were able to show guilt (or innocence) by examining soil samples on clothes and shoes.

The first real case involving minerals was in 1904 when Gerog Popp, a German criminologist was asked to help with a murder case. Eva Disch, seamstress, was found strangled in a bean field. A handkerchief found at the scene with snot on it was examined, and the snot was found to contain coal dust, snuff, and mineral particles, particularly, hornblende and mica. Popp was able to examine the layers of dirt on one suspect's clothes and determine that the suspect had been at work at a coal mine, then home, then through dirt to Eva's bean field, and back home. The route to and from Eva's bean field contained fine particles of hornblende and mica. The mud splashed on the suspect's pants with the evidences in the handkerchief left little room for doubt. When the suspect was confronted with the evidence, he confessed everything.

Today this evidence would have been secondary to DNA testing but it would have still been used. (And as a side note, DNA is being extracted from "fossil" records. This is where paleontology meets biology!)

There are hundreds of examples of this kind of evidence being used in criminology. There are dozens of special labs, both with crime enforcement and with specialized consulting firms, set up in many different countries that specialize in this.

If you'd like to read more about it, check out Evidence from the Earth: Forensic Geology and Criminal Investigation by Raymond C. Murray. We are taking orders for those of you who would like your own copy. They are $20.


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