"As forensic anthropologists, we can map specific coordinates on a skull and use software that we developed -- called 3D-ID -- to compare those three-dimensional coordinates with a database of biological characteristics," Ann Ross, a professor of anthropology at North Carolina State University said. "That comparison can tell us the ancestry and sex of unidentified remains using only the skull -- which is particularly valuable when dealing with incomplete skeletal remains."
However, the current size of the 3D-ID database has been limited by access to contemporary skulls that have clearly recorded demographic histories, the researchers said.
Ross and her research team, hoping to develop a more robust database, launched a study to determine whether it was possible to get good skull coordinate data from living people by examining CT scans.
Using CT scans of 48 skulls, they mapped the coordinates of the skulls manually using a digitizer, or electronic stylus, then compared the data from the CT scans with data from the manual mapping of the skulls.
Eight bilateral coordinates on the skull –--those found on either side of the head -- were consistent for both the CT scans and manual mapping, they found.
"This will allow us to significantly expand the 3D-ID database," Ross said. "And these bilateral coordinates give important clues to ancestry, because they include cheekbones and other facial characteristics."