back to news Sept. 26, 2012

Common Mapping Software May Help Forensic Scientists Solve Crimes

Researchers in the Department of Anthropology have used a common, commercially-available type of mapping software to determine whether patterns of change inside the bones of human remains could reveal how the bones were used during life.

The research, which was published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, could provide forensic scientists with a new tool to help identify bodies and solve crimes.

David Rose, lead researcher, is a doctoral student in anthropology and captain in the Ohio State University Police Division. Co-author Sam Stout is a professor of anthropology and Rose’s advisor. Julie Field, also co-author, is an associate professor in anthropology. Tim Gocha, graduate teaching associate in anthropology, also contributed to this research.

Rose began the project to determine whether the patterns of change inside the bones of human remains could reveal how the bones were used during life.

“Our bones adapt to the load that’s placed on them. Patterns of tension and compression show up in our internal bone structure, and this software lets us look at those patterns in a new way,” Rose said.

In this case, the researchers used a program called ArcGIS, a geographic information system (GIS) for working with maps and geographic information. Although the software has been used in the past to help map the location of objects uncovered at an excavation site — and Rose has even used the same program to map line-of-site views to develop security plans for campus events — the current study is the first time anyone has used GIS software to map bone microstructure.

Rose cautioned that the study serves only as a proof of concept, and that many more bones would need to be studied before GIS software could provide meaningful insight into bone biology.

“Really, we’re just combining very basic principles in GIS and skeletal biology,” he said.

Read the entire press release, courtesy of Pam Frost Gorder, assistant director of research and innovation communications.