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Analyzing Skeletal Remains Of Missing Girls

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Skeletal remains have been recovered in the car 17-year-old Cheryl Miller and Pamela Jackson were driving the night they disappeared in 1971. That car was pulled from Brule Creek on Tuesday. Now, experts begin the process of examining the 42-year-old bones.

The vehicle the missing girls were driving the night they disappeared is almost unrecognizable, after being buried under mud and water for 42 years. But, human bone can stand the test of time better than sheet metal.

"An underwater situation is better for preserving organic material than if it was exposed to the elements," said Dr. Adrien Hannus, Principal Archeologist and Anthropologist at Augustana Colloege.

Dr. Hannus is often called upon by law enforcement officials to help identify human skeletal remains.

"The coroner straight away would be trying to determine something about the dental records, and secondarily if they have the correct bones of the body from the individuals, trying to get an age estimate, and a sex estimate on them," said Dr. Hannus.

He says there are certain bones in the body that make it easier to identify an individual.

"The pelvises, the cranias, if they have those. Those are both parts of the body that have keys that tell you about the development of the individual. They tell you about the aging of the individual," said Dr. Hannus.

This is all partially dependent on how complete the remains are that were recovered.

In order to make sure the bone remains unblemished, experts will use soft materials such as bamboo and brushes, to scrape away any sediment.

"If they don't have those parts of the skeleton, then there's certainly other pieces that you can look at," said Dr. Hannus.

Dr. Hannus says modern technology could play a large role in identifying the remains.

"Today, we're much more well-prepared than we were several decades ago because of the advent of DNA analysis," said Dr. Hannus.

The closest living relatives of the two young women will have to provide blood samples in order to match the DNA.

"If they recovered any human remains at all, they should be able to, if nothing else, through the DNA be able to make an identification," said Dr. Hannus.

A process that will take at least several weeks. A short window in this four decade mystery.

More details on the case will be released once autopsies of the remains are complete.

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