Experimental study fo white heat line formation in burned bone using fourier transform infrared spectroscopy
Gough, Megan Anne
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In the anthropological analysis of burned bone, the presence of a white heat line aids in determining a bone’s physical condition prior to burning, distinguishing between those burned fleshed or wet versus dry. However, while the relationship between this thermal signature and a bone’s physical condition has been studied, there is a lack of research concerning the chemical composition of white heat lines. The present study assessed the composition of white heat lines that form on burned bone using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) with the potassium bromide (KBr) pellet method. The present study examined the effects of soft tissue and the retention of bone’s organic material, including naturally-occurring grease and water, on the development and appearance of a white heat line. Experimental remains consisted of isolated long bones from white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), elk (Cervus canadensis), sheep (Ovis aries), and pig (Sus scrofa) in five physical conditions – fleshed (fresh bones with adhering soft tissue), very wet (recently defleshed bone, greasy), partially wet (defleshed, slight grease retention), dry (defleshed, naturally degreased), and soaked (formerly dry bone immersed in water). These bones were burned over a wood fire made within a 55-gallon drum. After a visual analysis to evaluate white heat line formation, chemical composition was analyzed by determining spectral peak heights of the carbonate (CO3) ν3 (1415 cm-1), phosphate (PO4) ν3 (1035 cm-1), and amide I (1660 cm-1) vibrational bands. These thermal signatures appear to form superficially, measuring approximately 1.5 mm in depth. Results indicate that white heat lines that formed on fleshed bone contain an increased amount of CO3, PO4, and amide I in comparison to their unburned controls, while those that formed on very wet bone contain decreased amounts instead. These findings further our knowledge of how fire modifies physical remains and the effect that bone’s physical condition prior to burning has on the development of a white heat line and the resulting compositional changes. In order to build upon the results gained from the present study, continuing research is needed to investigate compositional differences between white heat lines that form on fleshed versus very wet bone and to assess bone’s fat content as a possible contributing factor. Additional FTIR research is needed to assess the other vibrational bands of CO3, PO4, and amide that are present in bone.