Morphoscopic and morphometric methodological approaches for segregating commingled human remains

  • Popi Chrysostomou

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The accurate and thorough segregation of commingled human remains into discrete
individuals has been a long-standing problem in forensic and humanitarian contexts with
significant scientific, legal and social implications. Prior to this research, there were no defined
methodologies on how to implement morphoscopic reassociations, while the complexity of
osteometric models had rendered them ineffective in many laboratory settings.
The aims of this research were to develop validated techniques for the morphoscopic
reassociations of antimeric and articulating skeletal elements and provide an alternative
approach for sorting commingled remains based on osteometric attributes.
Materials and Methods
The following methodology was undertaken to address these aims:
a. A secondary analysis of biology and life sciences resources provided the theoretical
understanding of causality relationships regarding the morphogenesis and
development of skeletal structures and led to the establishment of specific rules of
nature (Chapter 4);
b. The above rules were used to develop theory-based techniques (i.e., mental
models) on reassociating elements (Chapters 5 and 6); the methods included verbal
and visual descriptions for the morphoscopic reassociation of antimeric or
articulating elements representing all skeletal regions, with the exception of hand
and foot bones; and
c. Validation studies were designed to explore the efficacy of the proposed
morphoscopic methods and new theory-based isometric variables were presented
(Chapter 7). Results
The systematic literature review led to the synthesis of 5 new techniques involving
comparisons of antimeric elements (ribs, clavicles, scapulae, innominates, limb long bones,
patellae) and 11 new techniques involving articulating regions (cranium-mandible; vertebravertebra-sacrum; ribs-vertebra; clavicle-scapula; humerus-scapula; femur-innominate;
radius-ulna; radioulnar-humerus; femur-patella; femur-tibia; tibia-fibula). Morphometric
relationships were also explored for the visual comparisons between 3 non-articulating
regions (humerus-innominate; scapula-innominate; clavicle-scapular borders) and new
metric variables for comparisons between articulating elements (radius-ulna; tibia-fibula).
These methods were tested on 1,492 commingled elements drawn from the Texas State
University Donated Skeletal Collection. Findings provided some affirmative evidence with
regard to the validity of the vast majority of methods and confirmed hypothesized metric
relationships between the newly introduced metric variables. Practitioner error was a
recurrent source of error; minor method errors were addressed post the validation study.
Limited research has been undertaken on morphoscopic techniques for the segregation of
commingled remains. Therefore, the development of such methods can be useful by both
experienced or novice practitioners in laboratory settings, and by other academics and
researchers involved in this field. This is the first study to document morphoscopic
methods, that are both explicit and accurate, and offers practice-focused approaches
to enhance practitioner engagement.
Date of Award6 May 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Teesside University
SupervisorTim Thompson (Supervisor)

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