Diatoms and Forensic Science

TitleDiatoms and Forensic Science
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsHorton BP
JournalThe Paleontological Society Papers
Date Published10/2007

The application of diatom analysis in determining whether drowning was the cause of death has proved to be a valuable tool in forensic science. The basic principal of the “diatom test” in drowning is based on inference that diatoms are present in the medium where the possible drowning took place and that the inhalation of water causes penetration of diatoms into the alveolar system and blood stream, and thus, their deposition into the brain, kidneys, and other organs.

I provide an informal assessment of “reliability” of the “diatom test” through correlations between control samples and samples from organs and clothing in two case studies. In studies, all organ and clothing samples except one had matching analogues in the modern diatom dataset from the body recovery sites, reinforcing drowning as the cause of death. The analogue matching provides further information on the precise site of drowning, in particular differentiating between drowning in a bathtub versus a naturally occurring body of water.