From damage to internal organs to skin burns, a number of physical injuries occur due to a lightning strike. However, it has been shown that extreme stress also affects our skeleton and leaves lasting traces in the bones.
“Our work is the first study to identify unique signs of lightning damage deep within the human skeleton and allow us to identify such an event by analyzing bones only,” said Nicholas Bache, a forensic anthropologist at Wits University in South Africa.
Bacchi’s team found “extensive microcracks and bony fragments” in pig bones that had been electrocuted to simulate a lightning bolt. The same pattern is found in the bones of a giraffe that was killed by a thunderbolt. It was not clear if we could find similar effects in the human skeleton.
Researchers have conducted a number of experiments on donated cadavers for research purposes. It turns out that lightning strikes similar to microcracks in human bones – different from those caused by thermal changes (for example, when bones burn in a fire).
Lightning damage takes the form of fractures that radiate from the center of the bone cells or jump irregularly between groups of cells. The pattern of injury is identical even though the microstructure of human bones is different from that of an animal, said Patrick Randolph Quiney, a forensic anthropologist at Northumbria University.
While the observed patterns are similar, their severity depends on different factors. One is bone density, which may help small cracks spread. It is known that bone density decreases after the age of 40, which is why older adults are more prone to fractures.
For forensic scientists, this new discovery could lead to the development of a tool to solve the many mysteries of the past.
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