Analysis of measurement error in fragmentary skeletal reconstruction
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When remains are found in a fragmentary state, skeletal reconstruction aids forensic anthropologists in recreating general traits of the biological profile such as age, sex, ancestry and stature, reveals trauma, and reproduces visual facial likenesses. Previously an ignored area of forensic anthropology, the present study explored the error present when fragmentary skeletal remains are measured and those measurements are applied to statistical programs such as FORDISC 3.1 (Jantz and Ousley 2005) for classification. The study utilized 72 tibiae of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), fragmented into varying states to find the difference in measurements before and after fragmentation. The study found that, while there was a difference in measurements after reconstruction, the difference was on average less than 2 mm for all dimensions of the bone and less than the generally accepted level of interobserver error in osteometrics. On average, the bones decreased in size, partially due to the effects of maceration and drying, and the total change due to fragmentation was considered minimal compared to other sources of error. When applied to FORDISC 3.1 (Jantz and Ousley 2005), this difference in measurements did not result in the misclassification of a previously identified individual. The recommendation therefore is to utilize fragmentary skeletal remains, when an accurate reconstruction can be determined, to maximize the information potential of those remains.