Technology to Enhance Forensic Anthropology

A new NIJ grant report focuses on new technology that digitally reconstructs fragmented bones — specifically, the femur, humerus, pelvis, and skull — to aid in the identification of skeletal remains in commingled mass graves and mass disaster situations.

The report, titled Computerized Reconstruction of Fragmentary Skeletal Remains for Purposes of Extracting Osteometric Measurements and Estimating MNI, was written by Mohamed R. Mahfouz, Natalie R. Langley, Nicholas Herrmann, Emam ElHak Abdel Fatah. From the abstract:

When mass graves are unearthed, the bones are often commingled, presenting forensic anthropologists with the problem of sorting of bone fragments in an effort to determine the number of dead, as well as their age and sex.

Forensic anthropologists perform the task of creating a biological profile to aid law enforcement in identifying unknown human remains—an important first step in the criminal apprehension and conviction process.

The report describes the research used to develop software to reconstruct fragmented bones of four skeletal elements: the femur, humerus, pelvis and skull. The software allows the user the ability to visualize fragmentary elements, reject or accept elements, and merge elements to determine a fully reconstructed bone. Features from bone fragments can be matched to corresponding features on a "template" bone. The templates are derived from a database of more than 2,000 scanned bone fragments from the Morton Shell Mound, an ancient ossuary in Louisiana that has yielded approximately 24,900 human bone fragments.

The result of this research is a software that will enable forensic anthropologists to provide a system to perform biological profile assessments on isolated bones or bone fragments and to manage complex mass disaster or commingled bone cases. The data management aspect of the application will allow forensic anthropologists to digitally inventory complex commingled scenes.

The authors state that the application will significantly impact forensic anthropologists’ and crime scene investigators’ ability to reconstruct mass disasters, commingled mass graves, and highly fragmentary individual burials or surface scatters.

You can

click here to download the full report.


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