New research from North Carolina State University is now giving forensic scientists a tool that can be used to help identify the remains of children, and may contribute to resolving missing-persons cases, among other uses. Identifying skeletal remains can be a key step in solving crimes, but traditionally it has been exceptionally difficult to identify the skeletal remains of children.
"The key finding in our research is that children's faces attain the shapes they will have in adulthood much earlier than previously thought," says Dr. Ann Ross, an associate professor of anthropology at NC State and lead author of the new study. This finding is important because physical anthropologists use the shape of the skull to examine similarities and differences between populations, such as between Eastern Europeans and Mediterranean populations. This means that forensic experts can help identify the ancestry of skeletal remains in much younger individuals than is currently the case.
For example, Ross was able to use these findings to examine the remains of an unidentified 10-year-old boy, whose body was found in 1998, and determine that he was of Mesoamerican origin. That finding gives investigators additional information on the cold case, which can be used for facial reconstruction, among other things.
Until now, anthropologists relied solely on the remains of people who were at least 18 years old when studying the craniofacial (i.e. skull) characteristics of different populations. Similarly, forensic analysts did not attempt to assess the ancestry of remains belonging to people under the age of 18.
But the researchers have found that the population-specific traits that can be measured in the skull are actually present and can be measured at least as early as the age of 14. "These findings can likely be applied to much younger remains as well," Ross says, "but we did not have a large enough sample size to include younger kids in t
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North Carolina State University