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Forensic software determines race and gender based on skull measurements


April 12, 2012

A student measures a skull with a digitizer, in Ann Ross' lab

A student measures a skull with a digitizer, in Ann Ross' lab

For some time now – whether by using computers or clay – forensic scientists have been able to make three-dimensional reconstructions of the faces of the deceased, based on the contours of their skulls. More recently, however, software has been developed that can determine the sex and precise ancestral background of a person no longer with us, via a set of skull measurements.

Called 3D-ID, the software was created by North Carolina State University forensic anthropologist Ann Ross, and scientific computing researcher Dennis Slice of Florida State University.

Users start by obtaining measurements of 34 points on the skull using a digitizer – a sort of electronic pen that records locational coordinates. These numbers are then fed into a database that contains the coordinates for the skulls of 1,300 individuals, representing a wide range of ethnicities. By cross-referencing the submitted coordinates against those in the database, 3D-ID will deliver ancestral information as exact as “Hispanic of South American origin,” as opposed to “Hispanic of Mesoamerican origin” or “Hispanic of Caribbean origin.”

It will also indicate the gender of the skull.

The system may even still work on incomplete skulls, which don’t contain all 34 measurement points – it depends on which ones are still intact.

Source: North Carolina State University

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

in that dna discoveries have shown no race markers, one must wonder how a lesser geometry could support such speculation as to origin and connection. The idea of race must pass if the science to support it does not exist.

Bart Schoales

@Bart: The blueprint for race is in the DNA, even if they have not discovered the details yet. How else does one race look different than another, unless those differences were encoded in the DNA that grew that form? In this case, the scientists are not trying to find the DNA cause of the differences, but the result of those DNA differences. A more interesting question to ask would be, how many times do they get an inaccurate vs accurate result in practice. Also, how well does it do with mixed race ancestry?

Dennis Brown
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