Three-dimensional image technology in forensic anthropology: assessing the validity of biological profiles derived from CT-3D images of the skeleton
Garcia de Leon Valenzuela, Maria Julia
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This project explores the reliability of building a biological profile for an unknown individual based on three-dimensional (3D) images of the individual's skeleton. 3D imaging technology has been widely researched for medical and engineering applications, and it is increasingly being used as a tool for anthropological inquiry. While the question of whether a biological profile can be derived from 3D images of a skeleton with the same accuracy as achieved when using dry bones has been explored, bigger sample sizes, a standardized scanning protocol and more interobserver error data are needed before 3D methods can become widely and confidently used in forensic anthropology. 3D images of Computed Tomography (CT) scans were obtained from 130 innominate bones from Boston University's skeletal collection (School of Medicine). For each bone, both 3D images and original bones were assessed using the Phenice and Suchey-Brooks methods. Statistical analysis was used to determine the agreement between 3D image assessment versus traditional assessment. A pool of six individuals with varying experience in the field of forensic anthropology scored a subsample (n = 20) to explore interobserver error. While a high agreement was found for age and sex estimation for specimens scored by the author, the interobserver study shows that observers found it difficult to apply standard methods to 3D images. Higher levels of experience did not result in higher agreement between observers, as would be expected. Thus, a need for training in 3D visualization before applying anthropological methods to 3D bones is suggested. Future research should explore interobserver error using a larger sample size in order to test the hypothesis that training in 3D visualization will result in a higher agreement between scores. The need for the development of a standard scanning protocol focusing on the optimization of 3D image resolution is highlighted. Applications for this research include the possibility of digitizing skeletal collections in order to expand their use and for deriving skeletal collections from living populations and creating population-specific standards. Further research for the development of a standard scanning and processing protocol is needed before 3D methods in forensic anthropology are considered as reliable tools for generating biological profiles.