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Forensic Soil Science and Geology

24 January 2023

Crime affects us all. The 2022 Royal Institution Christmas lectures focussed on forensic science and demonstrated what a challenging and broad subject it is. Thus, the publication of this volume is timely, with the content detailing how geological material from crime scenes, often in trace quantities, is analysed using up-to-date methodologies and presented as evidence in legal settings. Crimes include homicides, burials in graves (old and new), illegal mining, trading of conflict minerals, fakery and adulteration of real materials, and the substitution of samples ahead of assaying. What a list! There are plenty more, as television programmes such as CSI and Silent Witness demonstrate. All the above involve soil and geology and must be investigated to combat organised crime. 

Across the twenty papers in this book, a wide range of real investigations are presented, highlighting the collaboration between many disciplines such as medicine, botany, palaeontology, analytical chemistry, law, and more. The collection, analysis, and interpretation of soil, minerals, DNA samples, toolmarks, fibres, and ballistics are discussed. Many different techniques are detailed, including searching for buried targets using ground-penetrating radar and analysing soils using newly developed portable instruments that have mind-blowingly sensitive detection limits and fast analysis speeds. Such advances in technology have made the reliability and rapidity of results very helpful to crime investigators. 

This book emphasises the stringent protocols of collecting earth materials from crime scenes for physical evidence, as well as procedures for reporting, giving evidence in court, and the legal constraints within which forensic work takes place. There are lots of follow-up references, although many may be difficult to source. As expected of the Geological Society, the book is beautifully illustrated and presented. My only issue is that the font size is too small for my aging eyes! Overall, Forensic Soil Science and Geology presents examples of the emerging advances for this sub-discipline of forensics, suitable for a forensic practitioner or student needing a primer. It could also perhaps give budding crime writers some inspiration for their latest novel or television episode and give authenticity for the procedures used within their stories. 

Reviewed by Richard Dawe



BY: Robert W. Fitzpatrick & Laurence J. Donnelly (eds.) (2021). Geological Society of London Special Publication No 492. 285 pp. (hbk)

ISBN: 9781786204554

PRICE: £110.00 www.geolsoc.org.uk