Next generation forensic anthropological approaches towards skeletal identification

A requirement in routine casework involving unidentified skeletal remains is the formulation of an accurate biological profile. Choice of method is invariably related to skeletal preservation and by association the bones available. It is vital, however, that the method applied affords statistical quantification of accuracy and predictive confidence, so that evidentiary requirements for legal submission are met. Achieving the latter requires the application of contemporary population-specific standards. This research involves the systematic acquisition of contemporary skeletal data using innovative approaches; new forensic and archaeological tools based on novel methods will be produced, resulting in improved end-user responses to death scenarios.

In Western Australia (and Australia generally) there is a relative paucity of contemporary population specific skeletal standards. Thus, in performing an anthropological assessment, Australian forensic practitioners have little recourse but to apply ‘foreign’ skeletal standards (e.g. from the USA) unrepresentative of our modern regional society. With rapidly advancing technology, it is now possible to acquire accurate skeletal measurements from 3D medical scans that represent our current population.

This research aims to revolutionise the task of classifying skeletal material in Australia by providing novel and powerful approaches for the rapid and accurate identification of unknown human skeletal remains for both forensic and archaeological scenarios. This research represents a clearly defined and achievable process towards realising a much needed, and long overdue, significant improvement and modernisation of current practice. The research involves the formulations of a series of Australian population-specific anthropological standards and thus addresses a crucial gap in the toolkit of physical/forensic and archaeological practitioners.

The formulation of accurate, robust (e.g. statistically quantified) and ‘usable’ (e.g. able to be applied to incomplete bones) standards is clearly a desirable and necessary aim.  It is, however, equally important that alternative methodological and statistical approaches be carefully tested; this ensures that only the most robust and accurate methods pass into the wider forensic community. Ideally this will result in ‘end-users’ being better prepared, and able to select from a suite of available methods those that most appropriately suit a given situation.

Collaborator/s

  • Associate Professor Murray K. Marks, University of Tennessee, TN, USA.
  • Professor Paul O’Higgins, University of York, York, UK.
  • Dr Andrea Cardini, Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia, Modena, Italy.