Digital Forensics and The Case of the Dead Dodo

The very latest technology in scanning and 3D printing is now providing vital clues and evidence in murder.  And as it happened, scientists can now ascertain that World famous flightless extinct bird… the Dodo… died… AFTER BEING SHOT… in the back of the head…

WHO Killed… the Dodo?

Keeping ahead of criminals is a constant battle for police detectives, clinicians and forensic scientists.

But the very latest in digital scanning technology and 3D printing can now be used to scan victims, in order to provide clues and evidence in complex murder cases.

The Centre for Imaging, Metrology and Additive Technologies (CIMAT) provides a hub for innovation and research that, for the first time, brings together state of the art technologies for the enhancement and understanding of product and process performance.

Digital Forensics

Professor Mark Williams and Detective Superintendent Mark Payne look at the scan of a murder victim  Image: West Midlands Police/University of Warwick

Underpinned by the principles of Metrology – the science of measurement – the Centre offers a number of techniques and services and has a track record of supporting the West Midlands Police on high profile cases through techniques such as X-Ray scanning and 3D rendering to expose microscopic injuries or uncover causes of death.

While autopsies provide crucial information on the cause of death and CT (Computed Tomography) scanning in hospitals can provide evidence, the latest micro-CT digital scans of the University of Warwick’s CIMAT are 1,000 times more detailed and capable of detecting even small injuries that would be missed by conventional medical equipment.

In 2014, the West Midlands force took the grisly case of dismembered body parts found in a suitcase to Professor Mark Williams at the University of Warwick.

“We knew we needed precision measurement to crack a particularly complicated case, which involved matching bone fragments from a dismembered body with the tool potentially used to do it.

“We had heard about the scanning kit that WMG had, and that it was being used in new ways, so we set up the meeting with Professor Williams to see if we could work together.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Mark Payne,

West Midlands Police

Not only can “micro-injuries” be detected//—ed, the age of the injuries can also be determined.

“We were able to help the West Midlands Police by examining a charred piece of evidence thought to contain human bone.  We discovered that it was a perfect jigsaw fit to another piece of bone in the suitcase and, using the very high resolution scanning technology, we were able to show the tool marks on both pieces in micro scale (one 50th of a millimetre).”

“These matched the characteristics expected for the type of saw the offender had disposed of, alongside the victim.”

Professor Mark Williams,

WMG, University of Warwick

Digital forensics scanning technology has provided evidence in numerous major trials.  With over 100 homicide cases from 13 regional police forces supported by the forensics clues identified by the centre, fatal injuries such as strangulation, stabbing and bone fractures have been investigated.

And it was used on dodo remains to establish the reason of the extinct bird’s demise.

The Deceased Oxford Dodo

Dodo, Jan Savery (1651)

Scanners were also used to make replicas of the famously fated flightless Dodo (Raphus cucullatus).

First encountered by Europeans in the late 16th century on the island of Mauritius (Indian Ocean), these large birds were about a metre tall and weighed about 20kg.  They lived on fruit and nested on the ground.

The World’s famous Oxford Dodo  is the only dodo specimen in the world to contain soft tissue and extractable DNA.

The Museum of Natural History believed it knew the provenance of the Oxford dodo.

Reportedly, several live dodos were brought to Europe in the 1600s.  Indeed, many of them subsequently suffered from obesity, which may well have been skewing our modern image of the dodo.

One of these dodos supposedly lived in London and is mentioned in a 1638 anecdote.  After its death, the creature was taxidermied, and acquired by a London museum run by gardeners and naturalists John Tradescant the Elder and John Tradescant the Younger.

The contents of their museum, including the remains of the once-living dodo, later went to Elias Ashmole, who founded Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum .

When the remains were examined, in 1775, they were found to be in bad shape, picked apart by feather mites.

Side scan of the Oxford dodo skull. Source: WMG/University of Warwick

The head and the foot was salvaged and ultimately those pieces were transferred from the Ashmolean Museum to the Museum of Natural History.

Author Lewis Carroll, who was a frequent visitor, is said to have used the remains, in addition to Jan Savery’s famous painting of the bird also on view at the museum, as inspiration while writing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Murder Most Fowl…

This particular dodo died after being shot in the back of the head, with lead found throughout the skull.

A scan of the Dodo’s skull revealed the scattered lead shots. Image: WMG/University of Warwick

Micro-CT scans shows lead scattered across the back of the dodo’s skull of what is believed to be the taxidermied remains of the bird specimen brought back to Britain.

The bird had been blasted from behind.  Although notably, the pellets were not able to penetrate its thick skull.

This breakthrough evidence revealed through new research by the University of Oxford’s Museum of Natural History and WMG at the University of Warwick.

“Using 21st-century technology we are now finding out vital new facts that have been hidden for centuries.”

Professor Mark Williams

WMG, University of Warwick

“This discovery reveals important new information about the history of the Oxford Dodo.”

Professor Paul Smith

University of Oxford

The shot to the head raises the question as to whether the Oxford dodo comes from the purported living dodo, or if it was hunted in the wild.  There is now a mystery regarding the origin of the specimen into Tradescant’s collection.

Future work will concentrate on industrial forensics, from aeroplane and automobile failures, through to developing state-of-the-art implants for medicine.