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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
cranium damaged by a hammer
Cranium with evidence of damage caused by a hammer. Image courtesy of: Smithsonian Institution


Blunt Force

Sometimes the pattern of bone breakage (which bones are affected and how they are fractured) can identify the weapon or object that caused the damage, along with the circumstances of the injury. For example, an impact site on the skull can record the shape of the implement that inflicted the blow. Individuals in automobile accidents often fracture bones in the face, pelvis, and lower legs.


two views of a cranium with a gunshot wound
Two views of a cranium with a gunshot entrance wound (left) and exit wound (right). Images courtesy of: Smithsonian Institution


Gunshot Wounds

Bullets (projectiles) fracture "fresh" bone in characteristic ways, so that the direction of the projectile and its size can often be determined. Entrance wounds are characterized by a circular hole with fractures extending from the hole in a "sunburst" pattern. The outer edge of the entrance would will be sharp and the inner margin beveled due to the direction of the force. Exit wounds are typically larger than the entrance, with fractures extending from the exit area. For exit wounds, the inner edge is sharply defined and the outer margin is beveled.