ARMED with hand-held garden tools and crawling in an uncomfortably close line shoulder to shoulder, the people tasked with finding Daniel Morcombe's remains eight years after he went missing followed a meticulous process.
Police and SES volunteers would sift through a dense layer of pine needles, leaves and soil to a depth of about 10-15cm near an unused sand mine in secluded bushland in the Glasshouse Mountains.
Photographs shown in Brisbane Supreme Court on Wednesday showed some bones could easily have been mistaken for sticks that had fallen from the trees above.
But the court heard volunteers were shown worn animal bones to help them identify bone fragments during the painstaking search.
The search began on August 13, 2011, with a barely recognisable right Globe shoe encrusted with mud spotted on August 17 between a small body of water and the embankment.
A left Globe shoe was found on August 20, followed closely by the first of 17 human bones located up to September 9.
Sunshine Coast police inspector Arthur Van Panhuis described the search as "exceptionally intensive" involving excavations, police divers, cadaver dogs, metal detectors and specially designed sieves.
Brett Peter Cowan - who is standing trial for murder, indecent treatment and interfering with a corpse - allegedly confessed to undercover police during an elaborate sting operation that he had thrown Daniel's body over an embankment at the old sand mine and then climbed down to cover it with material from the forest floor.
Mr Van Panhuis said the bones were found 50-75 m from where Mr Cowan claimed he dumped Daniel's body.
The court heard there was evidence of wild dogs and goannas in the area as well as a fox den.
An Adelaide scientist who specialises in ancient DNA has no doubt an upper arm bone he analysed belonged to Daniel.
Jeremy James Austin, from the University of Adelaide, said the mitochondrial DNA from the bone matched Daniel's mother Denise and his brothers Dean and Bradley.
Dr Austin, who has been extracting mitochondrial DNA from animals and humans for 20 years but has focused on identifying human remains since 2007, said mitochondrial DNA came from the maternal ancestry.
Forensic pathologist Peter Ellis told the court he believed the bones belonged to Daniel but could not establish a cause of death.
He said searchers found the left and right upper arm bones, left shoulder blade, one of the bones from a right forearm, parts of the left and right pelvis, the left and right thigh and shin bones as well as five vertebrae from the lower back.
"There were no duplicates," he said.
"That very strongly suggests there is only one person.
"It was our opinion that all the bones were Daniel Morcombe."