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Emily Niespodziewanski


January 27, 2012

Translating trusted tools to 21st century technology

January 27, 2012 | By | No Comments

You won’t find much if you search Twitter for forensic anthropologists. This is partly due to the sensitive nature of the work they do. For ethical and legal reasons, casework involving active investigations (e.g., homicide or positive identification of a John/Jane Doe) cannot be shared. As a field, we have remained very pad-and-pencil. However, the integration of methods and traditions of human osteology with the user-friendly, readily-accessible technological platforms will be critical to our continued relevance and growth as a field.

Recent methodologies have been developed in forensic anthropology using complex 3-dimensional imagery and statistical methods like Elliptical Fourier Analysis. These methods are sound (and new and exciting!), but there are equally valid methods that have been developed through the 20th century using simpler math.

The problem with our tried-and-true methods is that they are mired in their original journal articles, spread out through many volumes of various journals over many decades. The most recent compilation of trusted methodologies is Standards for data collection from human skeletal remains (Buikstra 1994). Standards serves as a field manual and guide for standards (obviously) for many forensic anthropologists in the United States. As some researchers in forensic anthropology trend towards the use of high-tech (read: expensive) new techniques, the path is open to bring older, trusted methods into the twenty-first century.

Searches for “osteology,” “forensic anthropology,” and “stature regression” on the Apple App Store and the Android Market websites returned no results. I propose to compile a few dozen of the most commonly used bioprofiling methodologies into one easy-to-navigate application, allowing forensic anthropologists to create a biological profile for a skeleton without hard copies of articles or books. Forensic anthropologists make use of a variety of methods to determine aspects of an individual’s biological profile from skeletal remains such as sex, age, height, and ancestry.

The end product will be a mobile app for recording and analyzing osteological data in the field. The first phase of programming will consist of cataloging relevant methodologies with their references and noting the appropriate area of application. Each article contains the necessary information (e.g., what measurements to take, what equations to plug them into, and the standard deviations of resulting estimates) spread through an extensive report. All sources will be cited – this is a reorganization of trusted material, not the creation of new untested information. The next phases will pull out all of that information and attach it to the reference within the app.

Ultimately, this app will allow users to plug in their measurements and see the output of a particular method and allow multiple data points from one set of remains to be saved as a file with the associated references. I’m anxious to get this project off the ground, both in terms of learning the programming language necessary and in reviewing seminal literature in my field.

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