©1999 - 2005
Edward D. Reuss
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Have you ever wondered about what happened to King Tutankhamun?  Remember all those old movies back in the 30's about the "Curse" that seemed to be attached to his tomb?  When the archeologists discovered the tomb of the ancient Pharaoh of Egypt, it was the subject of books and films for decades. The young king was only nine years old when he became Pharaoh about 1334 B.C. during the Eighteenth Dynasty of the New Kingdom.

 In ancient Egypt, the state god was "Amun".   Tutankhamun became Pharaoh during a tumultuous era of religious upheaval.  His predecessor, Pharaoh Amenhotpe IV had instituted a religious reform that would alienate the powerful priesthood of Amun. He selected only one god, the sun god, to be the sole object of his veneration. The one god would be symbolized by a disk of the sun with radiating rays ending in hands holding the symbols of life and dominion.  This image represented the Pharaoh's view of a single, all-powerful god call "The Aton".  The Pharaoh then changed his official name from Amenhotpe to "Akhenaton". Temples to Aton were built.  Throughout Egypt the temples of the old gods were shut down.  The names and representations of the god Amun especially were removed from monuments, temples and tombs.

Akhenaton was also a pacifist. He allowed the military might of Egypt to fall into decay.  Thus, he alienated two powerful forces in that ancient world - the priesthood and the military. He even went so far as to launch a great purge of devotion to the former state god, Amun.

The facts surrounding the death of Akhenaton are not clear to many, but upon his death, his son, the nine-year-old Tutankhaton, which means: "Perfect is the life of Aton" came to the throne of Egypt. Three years after he became Pharaoh, his name was officially changed from Tutankhaton to Tutankhamun.   Guess what? The old priests of Amun took care of young King Tut. He had a brief reign and was buried with honors.  He lived to the ripe old age of 19.

The pathologists who examine the mummies of ancient Egypt weren't able to determine the cause of death, but who knows?  Maybe someday they will.

Recently, DNA was found on that piece of cloth that many believe to be the shroud that covered the body of Jesus of Nazareth.   The Shroud of Turin has been examined by modern criminologists with remarkable findings. It is probably the best known piece of forensic evidence of a homicide.  The Shroud of Turin continues to baffle those who are skeptical of its authenticity. The mystery deepens as more and more findings indicate that the Shroud is genuine. Much of that evidence grows out of scientific research. For example:

A new analysis of pollen grains and plant images on the Shroud of Turin places its origin to Jerusalem before the 8th Century.
The study gives a boost to those who believe the shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus and refutes a 1988 examination of scientists that concluded the shroud was made between 1260 and 1390.

The earlier study also indicated the shroud came from Europe rather than the Holy Land.

"We have identified by images and by pollen grains species on the shroud restricted to the vicinity of Jerusalem," botany professor Avinoam Danin of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem said yesterday during the International Botanical Congress here.  "The sayings that the shroud is from European origin can't hold."

More than 4,000 scientists from 100 countries are taking part in the botanical conference, which focuses on a wide range of issues related to plants.
The shroud contains pollen grains and the image of a crucified man, as well as the faint images of plants.

Analysis of the floral images, and the separate analysis of the pollen grains by another botanist, Uri Baruch, identified a combination of plant species that could be found only in March and April in the region of Jerusalem, Danin said.

Danin identified a high density of pollen of the tumbleweed Gundelia tournefortii. The analysis also found the bean caper Zygophyllum dumosum.  The two species coexist in a limited area, Danin said.

"This combination of flowers can be found in only one region of the world," he said. "The evidence clearly points to a floral grouping from the area surrounding Jerusalem."

Traci Angel, Associated Press, "Shroud of Turin Dated To Before 8th Century", Staten Island Advance, August 3, 1999, Section A, p.21, cols. 1-3.

Photo from the Shroud of Turin Education Project

Here is a quote from another newspaper about the Shroud of Turin:

Scientists in Texas say they have isolated DNA recovered from the Shroud of Turin, the cloth that some believe Jesus was wrapped in after being brought down from the cross.

Tests by Victor Tryon, director of the Center for Advanced DNA Technologies at the University of Texas, turned up traces of DNA in the minute samples of blood remnants.

The samples are so small and damaged, however, that any DNA in them is practically unusable, says Leoncio Garza-Valdes, a microbiologist at the University of Texas.

"What we have discovered is that the remnant is human blood, that it is a male," says Garza-Valdes.

Marcus Baram, "Shroud of Turin Has Human DNA", New York Daily News, Sunday, March 29, 1998, page 38, cols. 1-2

The Shroud of Turin was almost destroyed on April 11, 1997 when a fire broke out in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy.  The heroic actions of five firefighters rescued the relic.  Firefighter Mario Trematore used a nine-pound hammer to break through multiple layers of bulletproof glass to save the shroud.  As pieces of marble weighing as much as 100 pounds fell from the ceiling of the church, his fellow firefighters sprayed him and the altar with water as he made repeated attempts to break the glass.

"I hurled myself with fury toward the urn. It was a miracle; I had the strength of a giant," Trematore said.  "One blow after another, the various layers of glass began to give way."  Trematore said when he finally broke the glass and saw the reliquary sitting there, "it was extraordinarily beautiful.  I took it in my arms like you would do with a baby."

CNS, Catholic New York, April 17, 1997, page 7

Ancient Rome was another matter. We will never know what poison was used to murder the emperors of Rome.  Cremation was the chosen method of disposing of human remains.

When I visited Ireland, I took a tour of the ancient bogs. Part of that tour included a talk about how evidence of homicides keeps turning up.  The machines that harvest the peat often reveal the remains of victims who have been murdered. The bodies of the victims are well preserved in the peat bogs.

The examination of exhumed human bodies from gravesites has brought murderers to justice.  Homicide victims who have been poisoned and not examined by pathologists have been buried with their secrets. However, there is always the possibility that new evidence may be revealed. The medical examiners are the real experts in any homicide investigation.  Now, with new advances in DNA technology, the potential for solving crime has been greatly enhanced.
Yet, we see more and more funeral announcements in the daily newspapers involving cremation.

Cremation is chosen for many reasons.  Personal preference and economic factors are just a few of those reasons. The cost of funerals has skyrocketed in recent decades and many have not had the financial ability to pay for cemetery plots and tombstones.  Cremation is an inexpensive alternative.  The Roman Catholic Church and other religious groups have until recently discouraged cremation.  The scarcity of land for cemeteries is another factor. Vandalism to existing tombs has also caused pain and suffering to relatives.  The arguments in favor of cremation are hard to dispute, but the potential for mischief is great.

The destruction of a human body by cremation destroys forensic evidence of criminality.  Homicides may never be detected with the elimination of the "corpus delicti" evidence. When we permit cremation, is it possible we may be  "burning the evidence"?   Who determines that a body can be cremated?  Who asks the questions?  Are DNA samples taken and properly recorded in all cases of death? Do we have an electronic database in place to ensure that such samples are available for investigators and the courts? 

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the fundamental building block for an individual's entire genetic makeup.  It is a component of virtually every cell in the human body.  Further, a person's DNA is the same in every cell.  DNA in a person's blood is the same as the DNA in his skin cells, semen, and saliva.  Except for identical twins, DNA is unique to each individual. DNA collected from crime scenes can either link a suspect to the evidence or be used to eliminate such a person as a suspect. Forensically valuable DNA can be found on evidence that is decades old.  The ramifications for law enforcement boggle the mind. This advance in forensics has not gone unnoticed by criminals.   The use of DNA evidence has been used to obtain the release of the innocent. Wrongly accused Convicts in our prisons have won freedom through this scientific achievement.  Attorneys such as Barry Scheck have been early to recognize DNA as a defense tool.    Mr. Scheck of the Benjamin M. Cardozo School of Law in New York has launched the "Innocence Project" to examine DNA evidence in which prisoners continue to claim their innocence.   The "Innocence Project" has won the post-conviction release of 38 innocent defendants, eight of them from Death Row. Such defense lawyers as Mr. Scheck know that the police must reach a high level of competence in collecting DNA evidence. 

This is a double-edged sword.  Just as the DNA can be used to release the innocent.  It can also be used to bring the guilty to justice.   The NYPD and police agencies across America have thousands of samples of evidence that police officers gathered in connection with violent crimes that remain unsolved.  Violent rape, murder, robbery and assaults involve DNA evidence that can be used to identify the suspects.   Serial killers who move across the nation or the world can be tracked through DNA evidence.  We need an electronic database of DNA samples to match up the crimes with the criminals.  

In England, the police have been using DNA profiling to solve tens of thousands of crimes. Here in the United States, there is much opposition due to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  To date, only about 1,000 crimes have been solved using the new techniques of DNA.  Many States don't have laws that allow the police to routinely take samples of DNA from suspects.  A simple cotton swab on the saliva can be used to record DNA into an electronic database.  In New York State, the legislature limits the taking of DNA samples from defendants who have convicted of a narrow set of violent crimes.  The arrest of a suspect on a minor charge may result in more serious charges due to outstanding warrants or connection with other crimes.  Could a serial killer be identified as a result of such a sample? If police forensic units place DNA in a national electronic database, serial killers who have left a trail of evidence across America could be immediately identified if samples of their DNA are placed into the same database. If we routinely took samples of suspects, just as we fingerprint them now, could be connect them with other crimes that they committed? It would seem that the civil libertarians want their cake and eat it too. They support the "Innocence Project", yet, they oppose the use of the same DNA technology to bring the guilty to justice.

The guilty are correct in their fears.   The FBI maintains the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).  However, the database lacks sufficient data to be an effective tool in law enforcement.
Members of the law enforcement community have made some recommendations.

"The U.K. (United Kingdom) has proved that, with a solid commitment to building a national database, DNA profiling can quickly become a revolutionary new tool of law enforcement.  It took less than a year to get England's national network up and running. To catch up, the U.S. needs to jump several key hurdles.  New York's included -must authorize police and other law enforcement officials to take DNA samples from every person arrested, preferably with the simple and painless cotton-swab method the U.K. uses.  Second, state legislatures should provide sufficient funding to allow the analysis of the large backlog of untested samples that many states have accumulated; the federal government should ensure that its own backlog gets cleared up too. Third, federal and state laws should mandate that all persons presently incarcerated in state and federal prisons, or in local jails, as well as all parolees and probationers, should have DNA samples taken. Fourth, Congress should authorize the establishment of a new, state of the art federal DNA database that receives and stores all this DNA information. "

Howard Safir and Peter Reinharz, "DNA Testing: The Next Big Crime-Busting Breakthrough", City Journal, Winter 2000, Volume 10, No. 1

The State of New York has established a DNA database.  It is a computerized collection of DNA profiles derived from designated convicted offenders and DNA crime scene evidence from unsolved cases. The database is maintained at the New York State Police Forensic Investigation Center in Albany.  To read about the New York State DNA Databank, go to the Division of Criminal Justice Services.  Click on their site here:


This is a great beginning, but as recommended, all persons arrested should provide samples of their DNA. Just as we take the fingerprints of persons charged with crime, we should take DNA samples.  A prisoner in custody on a minor charge, who has committed serious crimes and left DNA evidence behind, may well be charged with and convicted of those crimes. As in cases where arrests are voided or the accused is acquitted of the charges, fingerprints as well as DNA samples will be purged from the DNA databanks. The United States Supreme Court has yet to address the constitutionality of DNA data banks. 

DNA databanks will help us cope with the type of crime that has been proliferating in our society. An increasingly mobile criminal who formerly found solace in the belief that he or she could remain anonymous while engaging in crime across our nation, is now faced with the fact that an invisible forensic trail dogs their actions.

Copyright © 2001 Edward D. Reuss



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