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Reconstructing Fragmentary Skeletal Remains

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 2017
2 pages
This report summarizes research funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) that developed for testing a software that enables forensic anthropologists "to quantify and reconstruct fragmentary human skeletal remains from three-dimensional surface files produced by computed topography (CT) or laser scans."

This software addresses the difficulty encountered by forensic anthropologists when tasked with determining the number, age, and gender of victims consigned to mass graves where their bones commingle. The current method of piecing together fragmented bones from multiple individuals relies on a geographical information system designed to store, analyze, and manipulate spatial geographical data. The system is not designed to analyze bone fragments and is not efficient at doing so, according to Mohamed Mahfouz, the biomedical and systems engineer who headed the project that produced the software for testing. The software serves as a osteological case or scene management tool, with all scanned skeletal remains being reviewable within the software applications. The software enables the user to visualize fragmentary elements, accept or reject specific fragments, and merge the fragments into a fully reconstructed bone. The software is designed to work on fragments of four skeletal elements: the femur, humerus, pelvis, and skull. Features are taken from each bone fragment by measuring surface roughness. Those features are matched to corresponding features on a "template" bone. The templates are derived from a database of 800 skeletal remains from the William M. Bass Donated Collection and Goldmine Collection. The software was tested on a subset of 2,061 scanned bone fragments from the Morton Shell Mound, an ancient ossuary in Louisiana that has yielded about 24,000 human bone fragments. The ultimate goal, according to Mahfouz, is to improve the software so it can automatically scan, score, and reconstruct fragments from commingled bones.

Date Published: February 1, 2017