Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Flawed Forensics Hamper ID of Human Remains

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Research from The Australian National University has cast doubt on a method used in forensic science to determine whether skeletal remains are of a person who has given birth.

The presence of parturition scars – marks often found on female pelvis bones – have commonly been used as an indicator of child birth in police investigations to narrow down the identity of human remains.

Project leader Clare McFadden said that if skeletal remains were incorrectly identified as being of someone who has given birth, it could lead to complications or delays for important police work. “In forensics it could have serious consequences. It could send investigators down completely the wrong path,” McFadden said. “It could potentially slow things down by excluding individuals who otherwise would be candidates for the investigation.”

McFadden also said that use of the method in archaeology could lead to historical inaccuracies.

Despite the practice being in common use, particularly in the US since first being proposed in the 1910s, a number of studies into parturition scars have resulted in conflicting findings. McFadden reanalysed data from those studies and found that scarring was not a reliable indicator of childbirth.

“We found childbirth has a very weak association with these markers, but they strongly correlate with sex,” she said. “A lot of the older...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.