Rib Butterfly Fractures as a Possible Indicator of Blast Trauma


  • Presented at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, February 20–25, 2010, in Chicago, IL.

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Angi M. Christensen, Ph.D.

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Laboratory Division

2501 Investigation Pkwy

Quantico, VA 22135

E-mail: angi.christensen@ic.fbi.gov


Forensic anthropologists have become increasingly involved in the interpretation of skeletal trauma caused by exploding ordnance. This study examines the cause and significance of butterfly fractures observed in a recent study investigating skeletal blast trauma by Christensen et al. Fractured ribs resulting from blast events carried out in the original study were re-examined revealing that rib butterfly fractures with the tensile indicator on the visceral surface were present in 100% of viable pig specimens. Additionally, manual fracture testing was performed on 46 pig ribs to simulate the bending force believed to have been sustained in the original blast events. Fracture testing resulted in 93% of specimens presenting butterfly fractures with the tensile indicator on the visceral surface. This fracture pattern differs significantly from that normally observed in association with other types of trauma events and may aid forensic anthropologists and other investigators in the identification and interpretation of blast events.