Traveling Hair

A few days ago I happened to tune to NPR’s Morning Edition where they were discussing a scientific process for tracking human movement through hair analysis. You may have heard that by analyzing a strand of hair, a lab may determine what drugs, if any, a person may have taken. Typically, this is used for drug screening new employees. Well, scientists discovered that they can also tell where a hair is from geographically because hair also stores elements found in water.

As it turns out, all water is not the same. Drinking water in California has different trace elements than water from say Oklahoma. So, how does this pertain to the law? Dead bodies.

Imagine a body found dumped in a remote location with no other identifying markers. The police may be able to gather finger prints and dental records, but they have nothing to compare them to.  Add that there is no missing persons report matching the person found. Where do they go from there? Up until now, those factors may place that body in a cold case.

Now with this hair analysis, scientists can narrow down the area where the person lived by looking at what water elements are stored in the hair. So, a body found in Oklahoma with hair indicating the person primarily drank water from Las Vegas may steer police to search the Las Vegas area for missing persons reports or dental records.

So far, this technique is helping to identify unidentified bodies and remains found in mass graves.

A podcast is available on NPR if you wish to learn more about this amazing discovery.


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