Prof Steven A Symes

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Prof SA Symes is an extraordinary Professor in the Department of Anatomy at the University of Pretoria. Prof Symes is a sought-after consultant in criminal cases regarding traumatic injury to bone. He is the leading authority on saw and knife mark analysis. He has assessed and written reports for cut marks in nearly 200 dismemberment and 400 knife-wound cases. He has lectured, consulted or testified on trauma cases in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Peru, El Salvador, Indonesia, Kosovo, Europe and, most recently, South Africa. He is a Professor Emeritus at Mercyhurst College, Erie, Pennslyvania, USA, and currently works in the Medical Examiner’s Office as a forensic anthropologist for the State of Mississippi.

Prof Symes and L’Abbé have collaborated on research and education in forensic anthropology in South Africa for approximately 10 years. They have written several invited and collaborative book chapters that addressed: perimortem and postmortem bone fractures (Symes et al. 2014a), burned skeletal remains (Symes et al. 2014b); and the application of bone trauma to medicolegal investigations (Symes et al. 2012). They have also investigated bone trauma analysis on Au Sediba (L’Abbé et al. 2015). This is the first biomechanical analysis of bone trauma on fossilized material and has shown that wet/dry bone fractures can be observed on fossilized material. This observation supports our current research in the development of bone trauma definitions from a biomechanical perspective, which we hope will improve the reliability of interpretations of bone fracture in modern casework. 

Bone trauma interpretation is an invaluable expertise that anthropologists can provide to forensic investigations in South Africa and abroad. Fracture patterns on hyoid bones were assessed prospectively and we demonstrated that fracture propagation is not associated with a mechanism of injury (e.g., strangulation), but rather the speed of the force and other intrinsic factors. However, a larger sample of manual and ligature strangulation cases is needed and was recently obtained at the MEO in Mississippi. We are currently working on a paper of hyoid bone fractures with Dr Stull. Prof Symes gives yearly workshops on bone trauma at the University of Pretoria. We are also working with a suite of CT scans from the Steve Biko Hospital with regard to the reliability of fracture characteristics.

Recent Publications:

  • L’Abbé EN, Symes SA, Pokines JT, Stull KE, Cabo LL, Kuo S, Randolph-Quinney PS, Raymond DE, Berger LR. 2015. Forensic Interpretations of fresh bone fracture patterns on Malapa. Submitted to Scientific Reports, SREP-15-16224. www.nature.com/articles/srep15120.
  • Schmidt, CW, and SA Symes, Eds. 2015. Analysis of Burned Human Remains. Second Edition. Elsevier Press, New York.
  • Symes, SA, CW Rainwater, EN Chapman, DR Gipson, and AL  Piper. 2015. Patterned Thermal Destruction of Human RemainsIn Analysis of Burned Human Remains 2nd Edition. CW Schmidt and SA Symes, Eds. Elsevier Press, pp. 17-59. New York, NY.
  • Symes SA, EN L’Abbè, E Chapman, JES Pinheiro, KE Stull, and D Raymond. 2014. The Rorschach Butterfly: The Use of Nomenclature in Lieu of Understanding the Effects and Components of Kinetic Energy in Bone Trauma Interpretations.  Proceedings: American  Academy of Forensic Sciences 20:419-420.
  • Pokines, JT and SA Symes, Eds.2014. Manual of Forensic Taphonomy.  Baton Rouge: CRC Press CRC, Baton Rouge.
  • Symes, SA, EN L’Abbé, KE Stull, M LaCroix, and JT Pokines. 2014. Taphonomy and the Timing of Bone Fractures in Trauma Analysis. In Manual of Forensic Taphonomy.  JT Pokines and SA Symes, Editors.  Baton Rouge: CRC Press. Pp. 341-365. 
  • Symes, SA, EN L’Abbé, JT Pokines, T Yuzwa, D Messer, A Stromquist, and N Keough. 2014. Thermal Alteration to BoneIn Manual of Forensic Taphonomy. JT Pokines and SA Symes, Editors. Baton Rouge: CRC Press CRC Press, Baton Rouge. Pp. 367-402.
Published by Clarisa van der Merwe

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