Research Will Help ID Bodies Left Behind By Chilean Earthquake, Pinochet Regime

For Immediate Release

Matt Shipman | News Services | 919.515.6386

Release Date: 09.14.2010
Filed under Releases

New research from North Carolina State University will help medical examiners and others identify human remains of those killed during the recent earthquake in Chile, as well as the bodies of the “disappeared” who were killed during the Pinochet administration.

“We have developed population-specific identification criteria for the Chilean population, which will help us determine the stature and biological sex of skeletal remains,” says Dr. Ann Ross, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at NC State and lead author of a paper describing the research.

Dr. Ann Ross (standing) has done an analysis of Chilean skeletons to develop population-specific identification criteria that will help identify human remains of those killed during the recent earthquake in Chile, as well as the bodies of the “disappeared” who were killed during the Pinochet administration.

“My vision for this work is to help identify the remains of victims of political violence that occurred under the Pinochet regime,” says Ross, whose mother is Chilean. “This will also help in contemporary body identification efforts in Chile. For example, in the event of a mass fatality – such as the February earthquake in Chile – this will help authorities identify recovered remains.”

For the past decade, forensic researchers – such as Ross – have been developing population-specific identification criteria that account for variations in height, build and other characteristics that can be critical when attempting to identify human remains. “This is important,” Ross explains, “because populations vary. Identifying characteristics such as height and sex can be significantly different from population to population.”

For this study, the researchers evaluated remains from a 20th century Chilean cemetery in order to accurately characterize Chilean skeletal features. They were then able to develop stature criteria that can help researchers arrive at an accurate height for an individual based on an analysis of his or her long bones, including the femur and tibia.

The researchers were able to develop criteria to determine a body’s biological sex based on measurements of the articulation of the upper arm bone (the humerus) and the femur.

The paper, “New identification criteria for the Chilean population: Estimation of sex and stature,” was co-authored by Maria Jose Manneschi of the Universidad de Chile. The paper will be published in a forthcoming issue of Forensic Science International. The research was made possible by support from NC State.

NC State’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology is a joint department under the university’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

-shipman-

Note to editors: The study abstract follows.

“New identification criteria for the Chilean population: Estimation of sex and stature”

Authors: Ann H. Ross, North Carolina State University; Maria Jose Manneschi, Universidad de Chile

Published: Forthcoming, Forensic Science International

Abstract: In the analysis of human skeletal or otherwise unidentifiable remains the assessment of sex is an initial vital element when rendering a biological profile. As such other aspects of the biological profile are sex- specific (e.g. stature and age) and cannot be successfully determined without this preliminary assessment. In addition, the estimation of stature is an essential parameter of the biological profile, which is often used to confirm or exclude presumptive identifications. The purpose of this study is to present newly developed local identification criteria for the estimation of sex from the postcrania and stature for Chileans. Linear discriminant functions were derived for the humerus and femur. Sexing accuracies of 87%, 86%, and 82% were achieved. Furthermore, new univariate predictive stature equations are presented using a Bayesian approach for the humerus, femur and tibia.

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