The basis of all ancient hair examination is microscopy. This allows us to identify a hair as human or animal in origin, characterise the hair to a particular family or species, identify a geographical location, elemental composition, sex, food habits, environmental conditions and conduct comparative examinations. Hair examination for post-mortem degradation may indicate the factors responsible and the conditions at the time of death.
Due to the intricacies of species identification, ancient animal hair examination requires a different skillset and specialised knowledge to those required for human hair comparisons.
Silvana’s skills as a forensic human and animal hair examiner are directly transferrable to the examination of ancient hairs and textile fibres. With over 35 years of experience as a forensic biologist, she has examined hair samples from ancient woolly mammoths and extinct woolly rhino’s, through to modern humans.
Silvana was the first person to find unique features in mammoth hairs which challenged what people thought mammoths looked like. Originally thought to be a bright orangey-red colour, Silvana discovered that they came in a variety of colours, including pale brown and reddy-brown. She also identified a woolly mammoth with nits from 50,000 years ago.
Hair can withstand the test of time and provide us with a wealth of information.