Disasters of Biblical proportions sometimes require old-fashioned techniques for identifying the victims. According to New Scientist, after much publicity for DNA identification, the time-honored process of dental identification has proven its worth in the post-tsunami efforts:
The scale of the disaster made the detection effort particularly difficult. Teams were dealing with thousands of bodies in a hot, wet climate, where roads and other infrastructure had been destroyed and lab facilities were virtually non-existent. In other recent disasters, such as 9/11 and the massacres in the former Yugoslavia, DNA identification proved to be the most useful tool. But in Thailand neither the time nor the facilities were available.
“One advantage teeth have over DNA is that they can be stored. Without refrigeration DNA samples would have degraded”
…In Thailand some 75 per cent of bodies were identified using dental records, 10 per cent by fingerprints and just 0.5 per cent using DNA profiling. For the remainder a combination of techniques was used.
It’s grim work, especially considering that forensic experts ask for photos with broad smiles to aid in dental matching.
More from the Thailand Tsunami Relief page…