Professor reveals key to identifying mysterious bones

Location of Skeletal remains found on the Burdekin River
Location of Skeletal remains found on the Burdekin River

A biological anthropologist has revealed how a skeleton found by the Burdekin River may be identified by the tiniest features, but says exposure to harsh elements may hinder the investigation.

James Cook University Associate Professor Kate Domett, who specialises in health and disease in human skeletal remains, weighed in on the mysterious find with expert knowledge about the processes involved in identifying human remains.

Her insight comes after the skeleton was found in a tent near Eight Mile Creek on Saturday.

Human remains found on the banks of the Burdekin River on the weekend by a hunter.
Human remains found on the banks of the Burdekin River on the weekend by a hunter.

Police said the skeleton, which was found by two fisherman, could have been there for years.

Investigators have not revealed any information about the age or gender of the bones, but Prof Domett said a specialist would know the details just by looking at specific bones.

Prof Domett said differences in the pelvis and a particular skull bone were blatant indicators of sex, but determining age was tricky.

"Part of the pelvis changes shape as you age, you look at dental, and other people sometimes use the changes in the ends of the ribs," she said.

"It all depends on how well it is preserved … you can never 100 per cent tell an age, it's always an estimate."

Associate Professor Kate Domett on a trip to Thailand.
Associate Professor Kate Domett on a trip to Thailand.

Prof Domett said the skeleton found at the Burdekin could have suffered some exposure to weather, sun and animals if it was not buried.

Police confirmed the skeletal remains were found in an area where drugs used to be grown.

Townsville Crime Group Detective Inspector Chris Lawson said police would go through multiple missing persons' reports to try and assist with the investigation.

She said investigators would likely know an estimate gender, age and height of the dead person before it was sent to a laboratory for formal identification.

It was here that things became difficult for specialists, who had to align multiple features with missing person's health reports to hopefully find an answer.

Prof Domett said dental records, previous broken bones and any other distinguishing features could be a crucial piece of the puzzle when x-rayed.

While it was difficult to identify bones, Prof Domett said it was even more difficult to determine a time of death.

She said they often looked for artefacts near the skeleton or other things they were buried with.

"It's a big job … all the other work is done in the lab and could take weeks," she said.

Originally published as Professor reveals key to identifying mysterious bones


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