The recovery, identification, and analysis of environmental remains can be immensely useful in its application to help determine a variety of forensic situations. Micromorphology, Forensic Palynology, and Entomology will be considered here.
This field of science is concerned with the description, interpretation, and measurement of components, features, and fabrics in soils on a microscopic scale. The analysis is carried out by determining the:
1. Groundmass, (the mineral matrix),
2. Organic components (microorganisms and plant fragments),
3. Amorphous concentrations (features that appear shapeless under plane polarised light and isotropic between crossed polarizers) and
4. Crystalline concentrations (Kemp, 1990). Through the analysis of a soil that is found for example, on the sole from a suspect’s shoe, it would be possible to determine the soil’s point of origin, which in turn can be verified or ruled out in comparison with a soil sample from the crime scene (Gallop & Stockdale, 1998).
In essence, palynology is a study of the structure and formation of pollen (palynomorphs) along with their dispersal patterns and states of preservation in a variety of environmental conditions. Concerning forensic circumstances, palynology can help to determine the seasonal context of a gravesite, which would be useful where the historical circumstances of an incident are uncertain. It can also help to link or eliminate a suspect’s relationship with a crime scene (Moore & Webb, 1978).
Microfossils such as palynomorphs have the huge potential of being recovered from a variety of forensic contexts such as a deposit matrix, clothing, wheel arches of cars, hair and even blood from a crime scene. Other microfossils such as diatoms are also useful in determining forensic circumstances, particularly when the victim is suspected of being drowned.
Because palynomorphs are constructed with a rugged exine composed form sporopollenin, they are highly resilient to many hostile environments. For example, they can be recovered from baked goods and even from the stomach contents of a murdered victim (Brothwell, 1986).
Palynomorphs are a great source of info
Because of their high taxonomic breadth of size and shape, palynomorphs can provide sufficient information to determine their source (Moore & Webb, 1978). For example, a material being analyzed for a palynomorph deposit could yield a possible geographic origin, determine whether the cadaver had been moved or link an individual or item with a crime scene.
However, pollen liberation can be erratic, which can be very significant in estimating a possible geographic origin or linking an individual or item with a crime scene. By falling to the ground, pollen is subject to factors such as height, turbulence, wind speed, windbreakers, and its terminal falling velocity, which all affect its dispersal pattern (Birks & Birks, 1980).
When the relationship between a palynomorph found on a suspect is the same as that found on a cadaver, it does not necessarily imply any guilt; what it does mean, however, is that both the suspect and the cadaver have been in the same location. It is thus for the investigating officers to decide whether the relationship indicated through the palynomorph analysis means anything.
There are hundreds if not thousands of species of flora that are highly common and are present everywhere in our environment. Because of the persistence of such materials, everyone will have traces of common palynomorph on them, making cross-contamination a real issue. It would thus seem that only those exotic species of flora that are not indigenous to a specific area will stand out, for example, house plants.