International Journal of Legal Medicine

, Volume 132, Issue 4, pp 1215–1224 | Cite as

The comparative performance of PMI estimation in skeletal remains by three methods (C-14, luminol test and OHI): analysis of 20 cases

  • Annalisa Cappella
  • Daniele Gibelli
  • Enrico Muccino
  • Valentina Scarpulla
  • Elisa Cerutti
  • Valentina Caruso
  • Emanuela Sguazza
  • Debora Mazzarelli
  • Cristina Cattaneo
Case Report


When estimating post-mortem interval (PMI) in forensic anthropology, the only method able to give an unambiguous result is the analysis of C-14, although the procedure is expensive. Other methods, such as luminol tests and histological analysis, can be performed as preliminary investigations and may allow the operators to gain a preliminary indication concerning PMI, but they lack scientific verification, although luminol testing has been somewhat more accredited in the past few years. Such methods in fact may provide some help as they are inexpensive and can give a fast response, especially in the phase of preliminary investigations. In this study, 20 court cases of human skeletonized remains were dated by the C-14 method. For two cases, results were chronologically set after the 1950s; for one case, the analysis was not possible technically. The remaining 17 cases showed an archaeological or historical collocation. The same bone samples were also screened with histological examination and with the luminol test. Results showed that only four cases gave a positivity to luminol and a high Oxford Histology Index (OHI) score at the same time: among these, two cases were dated as recent by the radiocarbon analysis. Thus, only two false-positive results were given by the combination of these methods and no false negatives. Thus, the combination of two qualitative methods (luminol test and microscopic analysis) may represent a promising solution to cases where many fragments need to be quickly tested.


Forensic anthropology PMI Radiocarbon Luminol test OHI Tunnelling 


Ethical standards

The authors declare that the present study comply with the current Italian laws.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Annalisa Cappella
    • 1
  • Daniele Gibelli
    • 1
  • Enrico Muccino
    • 1
  • Valentina Scarpulla
    • 1
  • Elisa Cerutti
    • 1
  • Valentina Caruso
    • 1
  • Emanuela Sguazza
    • 1
  • Debora Mazzarelli
    • 1
  • Cristina Cattaneo
    • 1
  1. 1.LABANOF, Laboratorio di Antropologia e Odontologia Forense, Sezione di Medicina Legale e delle Assicurazioni, Dipartimento di Scienze Biomediche per la SaluteUniversità degli Studi di MilanoMilanItaly

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