‘Push the Boundaries’
My name is Maria and this is my colleague Bruno, and on behalf of us both I’d firstly just like to thank you all very much for coming along today.
For those of you who are not already aware, Bruno and I are both currently Master of Design students here at Duncan of Jordanstone.
The aim today of the ‘Push the Boundaries’ lecture is not necessarily for us to talk to you about the specifics of our Masters projects themselves, but more so to hopefully give you what we hope is a relatively fresh insight into how different aspects of design - namely our previous specialisms of Jewellery and Graphic Design - can be utilized in various different, sometimes quite unusual or unexpected contexts, outwith of a more traditional setting.
We hope that you will find both lectures to be an interesting and informative, but ultimately an enjoyable experience.
I’m going to be discussing with you today a little about something called ‘Forensic Jewellery’, and sharing with you a little about how items of jewellery can be used within the context of Forensics: for the purposes of helping to identify missing person(s) and victims of large-scale disasters such as 9/11.
My lecture today will mainly be focusing on exploring this concept, however I will also talk a little about my own personal transition from jewellery design itself as a specialism, and how my Masters programme has taken me on a completely different and seemingly unrelated route - however, not as unrelated as you may first think!
Although the concept of ‘Forensic Jewellery’ itself may at first seem a little bizarre, it is actually a very topical subject.
I’m sure you will all be aware of the dreadful recent mass-disaster occurrences in both New Zealand and Japan. Last week, an earthquake devastated Alabama, USA, and, only this very morning, it was announced across the world that the US ‘Most Wanted’ Al-Qaeda terrorist leader, Osama Bin Laden, had been killed.
However, due to the fact that the subject is very topical, it also makes it a particularly emotive subject.
So before we kick off, I’d just like to take the opportunity to make you aware that throughout the course of the lecture there might be a couple of particularly sensitive, distressing, or perhaps slightly upsetting elements discussed or images shown, so I’d just like to take the opportunity to make you aware of that.
Firstly, when we think of ‘forensics’ (and when I say ‘we’, I mean those of us who barely know our fingerprint from our footprint), we tend to picture this glossy, often quite glamorous, Americanized CSI-type connotation.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with CSI, it is a dramatized American television series which follows the lives and work of crime scene investigators in Las Vegas.
In watching and getting caught up in these types of show, we tend to buy what is presented to us as fact - and, as we should to an extent; as is intended by the show’s characters and storylines. But we often also accept as fact some of the forensic procedures demonstrated throughout.
As incredibly engaging as these types of show can be, they are often far removed from what is reality.
The reality, in fact, is something very different altogether.
Here, we have what is quite a disturbing image taken just prior to the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami in Phuket, Thailand; indicating soon-to-be-victims of the infamous tragedy.
Similarly, an image of just some of the World Trace Center debris left behind in the wake of the 9/11 atrocities in 2001.
Finally, we have an image of just some of the devastation caused by the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan only weeks ago.
Each of these images depicts just a minute proportion of the debris that is left behind at the scene in the subsequent aftermath of these large-scale disasters. One can barely conceive the amount of destruction that is left behind as a result of an event of this proportion.
One of the most important aspects in the aftermath of a disaster is obviously to begin a process to identify: both the persons thought to be missing as a result of the disaster, and the bodies - or sadly, what may now be simply fragments of a body recovered from amongst the debris.
If you can imagine the impact and devastation a tsunami, terrorist attack, earthquake or fire can have on the landscape and appearance of a city or even an entire country, we can only imagine the effect it can have on a human being.
It becomes very obvious that identifying victims is not just as simple as being able to facially recognize a person.
The identification process that follows as a result of a mass-disaster is one called Disaster Victim Identification (DVI).
DVI involves utilizing traditional methods of forensic identification such as DNA, fingerprinting, dental records and something called unique medical identification to identify bodies. These four main forms of forensic identification are considered to be ‘primary’ forms of evidence, in that they remain consistent both ante and post-mortem, i.e. regardless of whether a person is alive, or now deceased.
Primary evidence is normally conclusive in forming the positive identification of a victim, however, it can inevitably be compromised in certain disaster situations. And ,obviously as a disaster can occur in any area of the world; in certain, less developed areas of the world, dental records and DNA analysis may not be available.
In the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, for example, a substantial amount of what would have been vital DNA information was lost through the prolonged immersion that the bodies had spent in salt water.
Dental records too, have the potential to become less and less reliable in coming years; with people becoming better able to care for their teeth, young people are having less work undertaken at the dentist.
But what do Forensics and DVI have to do with design? What do they have to do jewellery?
In most general terms, identity. More specifically, in this instance, literal identification.
Where the reliability of primary identification methods is diminished, personal items such as jewellery are becoming increasingly heavily relied upon and accepted as a means of positive identification; and can possess the potential play an integral role in the identification of a person.
Jewellery has long been a signifier of belonging and personal identification: marking its wearer as a member of a particular religion, cultural group or even life stage. Some jewellery items are particularly personal; they may have been given as a gift, or they may symbolise a relationship between relatives and a missing person; and jewellery items are thus often recognized by relatives as having belonged to their loved one.
Jewellery has long been concerned with the interaction and relationship it has with the human body, and jewellery designers themselves continually deal with the relationship between a piece itself and the body on which it is worn. Jewellery embodies a specialist ability to connect the notion of identity unlike that of any other item, possession or adornment, but it has never to date been used in a literal identification context such as this.
So, if jewellery can be used to help identify people, then why is it not more commonly used as a means of evidence?
Well inevitably, just as DNA and other primary evidence can be compromised as a result of a disaster situation, so too, can jewellery.
In a jewellery context, what may have once been a golden-coloured ring may deform so dramatically post-disaster that it now resembles a different aesthetic entirely.
Jewellery itself is considered a ‘secondary’ identifier due to its capacity to deform post-disaster. Dependant on the type of disaster, this could be as a result of burning, immersion in water, or exposure to buried or extreme environment(s) for a prolonged period of time.
Other forms of secondary evidence include items such as clothing, tattoos, wallets and items such as driving licences and passports. Items which are all susceptible to change post-disaster and post-mortem.
The fact jewellery may not be attached to the body on which it was originally worn is problematic; said ring may now be located several miles away from the body on which it was originally worn.
Conversely, the concern that jewellery items are interchangeable between people means that they may therefore not be considered definitive proof of identification of the said person they are located upon; Sarah may have loaned Sue her necklace on that particular day.
Finally, suppose an item of jewellery does survive a disaster intact; but suppose it’s a highly fashionable, mass-produced item which is currently being sold in mass in thousands of stores worldwide? How do you differentiate between one gold ring, as opposed to another?
Hopefully you can begin to see all of the inevitable discrepancies associated with using jewellery as a form of forensic evidence. The capacity that jewellery possesses to change from ante-mortem to post-mortem has a significant effect on how the various persons, companies and organizations describe it throughout the course of the DVI process.
There is currently no one, recognized, international standard for describing jewellery, thus previous attempts at using jewellery as reliable evidence in DVI have often been hampered or even ignored.
Now, you might be thinking, “How hard could it possibly be to describe a piece of jewellery?!”
I’m sure by now you’ll all have noticed the Post-it notes sitting in front of you…! I’d like you to each take a Post-it note and a pen/pencil, and to just take a couple of minutes to describe the item of jewellery that was previously just on screen.
Now the liklihood is that you may not have paid particularly close attention to the item, which is exactly what we want of this exercise(!) You might want to draw a little sketch and annotate it; you might want to create a list of bullet points; Consider anything and everything you remember about the item you’ve just seen; anything at all you think might be relevant when attempting to describe it.
(Exercise takes place: a jeweller and a non-jeweller’s Post-It examples are to be collected in and compared)
Now the purpose of this exercise is not to demonstrate that a jeweller is better able to describe jewellery, in fact, it could perhaps be quite the opposite. The point is that no any one description that any of you have provided will exactly match. Feel free to swap Post-It’s with the person sitting next to you to see some of the differences in the way you have each described the same item.
The liklihood, in fact, is that the layperson’s description will be the most readily used, as it is simple, straightforward, and to the point; and not clouded by any previous technical jewellery experience.
So you may now thinking, well, okay, none of these descriptions match exactly, however you get the general idea; it’s a golden ring, it’s round, it’s probably a wedding band, it may even have a hallmark or an engraving, etc.
However, picture the scene of grieving widower who has just lost his wife, and has been asked to attempt to describe his deceased wife’s wedding ring by Police Family Liaison Officers. A stressful, confusing, upsetting, and memory-laden scenario: the likelihood is that the widower will offer a description not all that dissimilar to merely that of a ‘gold wedding ring’.
Similarly, this description may mimic what the widower will remember of his wife’s ring, based on his memories, any photographs he may own of the item, and how he last remembered his wife wearing the ring when she walked out of the door that morning.
Applying this description to a context such as the aftermath of 9/11, one can barely conceive just how many jewellery items fitting this description were recovered from the debris – and thus how a description of this nature is potentially useless in terms of attempting to identify the specific ring in question.
Similarly, this gold ring may now resemble a brown, mottled, charred lump of metal; therefore the ‘golden ring’ the widower may be looking for, may no longer exist as it once did.
So how do we prevent the same item of jewellery from being described in 100 different ways? How can we ensure that the correct ‘match’ is made between an item of jewellery recovered at a disaster site, and it’s original owner? How do we differentiate between hundreds of similar-looking jewellery items?
The need for one, standardised international jewellery identification system for use by DVI teams becomes increasingly apparent.
That’s where design comes in.
My Master of Design research looks to design a ‘Forensic Jewellery Classification System’; a universal classification system which better utilise jewellery as reliable evidence in DVI. The classification system will include one universal terminology for describing jewellery, and incorporate a standard set of descriptors that can be by a wide range of people throughout the various stages of DVI process across the world.
Over the past 8 months of my Masters programme, I have met with, interviewed and worked alongside Forensic Scientists, Anthropologists and Archeologists; Forensic Artists, Psychologists, Police Officers and Family Liason Officers; Disaster Response Experts, Proffessional Embalmers, Jewellery Valuators and Appraisers and experts from the Goldsmiths’ London Assay Office.
The project itself is the result of a unique design/science collaboration between The University of Dundee’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID) and Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art (DJCAD).
As I mentioned previously, for the purposes of this lecture, I won’t be getting into specifics of my research itself, so I am instead going to round the lecture up with a couple of real-life, public case studies whereby jewellery has played an integral role in missing person(s) enquiries and murder investigations.
For those of you who are interested in finding out more about my Masters research itself, I will be more than happy to provide you with contact details at the end of the lecture, and I will also be free to answer any questions that may have.
Some of you may have heard of the ‘Melanie Hall’ murder case, perhaps more commonly known as the ‘M5 Bones Case’.
The Melanie Hall case is tragic story of how two workman clearing vegetation near a slip road off the Northbound M5 Motorway, found a number of bones wrapped and buried in a bag, including a skull, pelvis and finger bones.
Forensic examination of the bones, dental record checks, and a ring that had been left upon one of the finger bones eventually led to positive identification that the remains were that of Miss Melanie Hall, who went missing some 13 years ago.
One newspaper article had accounted, “Jewellery buried with human remains found on a motorway helped identify them as Melanie Hall who disappeared 13 years ago”, stating how Police had showed the ring to Melanie’s parents, Pat and Steve Hall, who confirmed it as having belonged to their daughter. The family had been informed that the remains were probably Melanie - they had been asked by police to identify the ring found at the site.
Another article, very interestingly, states, “…bizarrely a treasured ring given to her by her great grandmother was left on her finger and proved to be the key to identifying the 25-year-old…’
The ‘Forensic Jewellery’ identification process in this instance simply involved Police Officers showing Miss Hall’s parents a picture of the ring, which they identified as their daughter’s. It was eventually through the primary identification of Miss Hall’s dental records that a final, conclusive ID was made, however I can’t help but wonder what the process would have been had primary identification in this instance been unavailable. Would this ring thus then have been the only available identifier? And was directly showing Miss Hall’s parents images a ring that had been buried for 13 years the best procedure to follow in getting them to correctly/incorrectly identify it as their daughters…?
Similarly, you may have heard of the Ronald Platt murder case, whereby in 1996, a Rolex watch was the centerpiece of an elaborate murder case that happened in the United Kingdom.
There are many reasons why people buy Rolex watches; but for all the possible reasons why you may consider purchasing a Rolex, there is one reason that you may not think to consider: your Rolex watch can be used to prove your identity.
In 1996, the body of the at-the-time unidentified Ronald Platt was discovered by a fishing crew off the coast of Devon. The face of the man was already in an advanced state of decomposition, and the fingerprints and DNA of his remains could not be identified in Police databases. The only identifiable marks that the body still bore was a tattoo of a maple leaf on the back of his hand, and the Rolex watch still worn around his wrist.
Rolex holds a record of every single watch it has ever manufactured.
The serial number of a Rolex watch can be found at the watch’s shoulder, just underneath the curve where the bracelet meets the watch’s face. In addition, each and every time a Rolex watch is taken to customer care for service and repairs, a special engraving is made upon the watch.
Because of the help extended by Rolex, the victim was later identified to be Ronald Joseph Platt. His Rolex Oyster Perpetual Chronometer was manufactured in Geneva in 1967, and he took it for servicing in 1977, 1982 and 1986. The identification of the body was confirmed later on by a man who came forward as Platt’s friend.
No matter how the crime had occurred or how it was planned, the moral of the story remains that it would never have been uncovered and Platt never identified if not for the Rolex watch around his wrist. In addition, British police were able to determine the date of death by examining the date on the watch’s calendar. Since the Rolex was fully waterproof and it’s movement had a reserve of two to three days of operation when inactive, they were able to determine the time of death within a small margin of error.
Finally, the infamous Ipswich Serial Murders - or as more commonly known in the media as the work of the ‘Suffolk Strangler’ - took place in 2006 when the bodies of five murdered women were discovered at different locations near Ipswich, England. Murderer Steven Wright was convicted of the murder of all five women in 2008 due to DNA and fibre evidence.
An interesting aspect to the case was that all five of the murdered women were discovered naked…bar their jewellery.
Had primary evidence been diminished in this instance, however, the consistent presence of jewellery on each of the victim’s bodies could have played a potentially integral role - both in identifying the victims themselves, as well as providing a potential link for exploration as a similarity between the murders themselves.
Case studies such as these help illustrate how jewellery, for various reasons, may also be left upon the body (both deliberately and accidentally); proving to be key in not only identification purposes, but also as a line of investigation as to the reasons why it has been left upon the body.
Whereas it would seem that with the Ronald Platt case jewellery was merely left upon the body along with the rest of the victim’s clothes and personal possessions, the murderers of both Melanie Hall and Ipswich women had appeared to have made somewhat of a conscious effort to leave the victim’s jewellery upon their person(s).
The (seemingly deliberate) non-removal of the victim’s jewellery is interesting ,and one would assume it to be quite obviously significant in some way; to be so careful as to attempt to cover up a crime or dispose of a body and yet to leave the victim’s jewellery upon their person, hints at a particular curiosity surrounding the motive behind this action.
Might the presence of a highly personal item such as an item of jewellery then suggest that the victim was known by their killer(s)? Would the presence of (some/certain items of) jewellery, suggest a deliberate action on the part of the murder not to part the victim with their possession, perhaps because they knew it had some sort of a significance to them; personal, sentimental or otherwise?
There was never any one form of ‘Forensic Jewellery’ procedure involved in utilising jewellery as evidence in any one of these crimes, and there still to this day exists no known form of Forensic Jewellery procedure or classification system in place in any police, criminal or murder investigations, missing person(s) enquiries, cold case files, criminal justice or court of law proceedings, crime scene investigations, or Disaster Victim Identification (DVI).
These are all areas where the design of a ‘Forensic Jewellery Classification System’ could be of assistance.
I studied my undergraduate degree at Duncan of Jordanstone; I graduated just last year in 2010 from the Jewellery and Metal Design programme. I entered the Master of Design programme with the intention to become a designer rather than specifically a jeweller; a mentality which appears to be common amongst Master of Design students in general.
However, I am a ‘jeweller’. There is no denying that fact. I have an acute attention to detail; I am obsessed with small intricate things; and I’m absolutely covered in various accessories and adornments!
Despite this, personally, I had always found the jeweller’s ‘jewellery’ process to be somewhat unfulfilling, at times even a little self-indulgent. As jewellers, we protest the ‘rewarding’ nature of the commission process and so forth, and indeed it can be extremely heartwarming to see the surprise, pleasure and excitement spread across a client’s face when presented with a lovingly-constructed, handmade piece. To me, however, the true reward is that of the jeweller’s, and there is something in that idea which has always unsettled me. I felt like I wasn’t truly helping anyone or giving something back.
Although I chose to be a jeweler and I do still very much enjoy designing and creating jewellery itself, I realized very quickly that for me, what I did not chose was to partake in a routine of workshop-isolate sawing, soldering and polishing amid the companionship of morning radio and afternoon cups of tea, an environment which was previously common in my jewellery-making routine.
Despite holding such strong opinions, it didn’t successfully bring me any closer to what I did want to do.
And what did I want to do?
Other than not really wanting to design and make jewellery on a daily basis, I had absolutely no idea.
Although this is a forensic ‘jewellery’ project, in undertaking it, one of the biggest challenges was ironically having to step outside the thinking and the mindset of being a jeweller! And although that’s essentially what I wanted to gain from the master of design programme, i never for a second imagined that i’d be doing it in such a way…!
I also wanted to see where the project could take me…
And, a few weeks ago, myself and my project partner Ruth Watson became members of the British Association for Human Identification, and attended their annual Scientific Conference in Manchester. We presented a scientific research poster which detailed some of the research we have undertaken whilst developing the ‘Forensic Jewellery Classification System’.
As design students attending our first ever scientific event, we had no idea what to expect of a scientific conference, and little experience in putting together a research poster (especially a scientific one!).
It goes without saying that we were both incredibly excited to have won, but we were also extremely surprised. I’m especially pleased (and grateful!) that our research was recognized as being of value and worth to the scientific community, further illustrating the extent to which designers are able to contribute their skills to numerous different areas outside of a design community.
It is yet another great example of design successfully pushing the boundaries of its specialism.
I have also since applied for a PhD in the subject at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, with my interest being to further explore the various ways in which jewellery can assist in Missing Person(s) Investigations and Post-Mortem Victim Identification.
A few days after I submitted my application some weeks ago, I received an email from the Faculty of Graduate Research at the University, informing me that they had received my application. That same day, news spread across the world that a large-scale earthquake disaster has devastated central Christchurch, New Zealand.
It’s a very different story and far more shocking and harrowing to be actively, publicly witnessing all of the disaster response procedures I’ve been studying and learning about over the past few months, being lived out and unfold first-hand in real-time.
If you’d have told me this time last year that I would be attending Scientific Conferences with proffesional Forensic Anthropologists, Archaeologists, Police Officers and Embalmers; pitching my project against experts in the field of forensics of many years; applying for PhDs at the other end of the globe, and giving lectures about mass-disasters, as a ‘lowly’ jeweler, the answer would have been a resounding, ‘HELL no!’.
This time last year I was convinced that the ‘Boundaries’ of jewellery design only stretched as far as the area surrounding the ‘workshop’ in my garden shed.
A mere 12 months later, I am now convinced that the possibilities for the exploration of jewellery design really are limitless, and I would therefore encourage each and every one of you to ‘Push your Boundaries’, whatever they may be.
The reality of the CSI scenario does not seem so fabricated or so far-fetched anymore. Albeit perhaps still fictional scientific analogy, there is nothing to say that you cannot ‘Push the Boundaries’ of this fiction, and turn jewellery designer into forensic investigator either.
Thank you very much for listening and I hope you found it interesting!