Focus on identifying sex of skeletal remains

Dunedin forensic anthropology researcher Jade De La Paz aims to strengthen the science used to identify crime victims and missing persons from skeletal remains.

And Ms De La Paz, of the University of Otago anatomy department, is helping real science catch up a bit with the swift and sure way human bones are used to identify missing people in television crime shows.

Ms La Paz is undertaking PhD study in identifying the sex of skeletal remains in New Zealand and Thailand.

Popular US TV crime shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Bones had boosted community awareness of crime scene investigations and forensic anthropology, she said.

Jade De La Paz is seeking to strengthen the science used to identify crime victims and missing...
Jade De La Paz is seeking to strengthen the science used to identify crime victims and missing persons. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN

"These popular culture depictions of science have been great for getting people engaged in thinking about science and research in a fun and engaging way.

"Many of these shows lack scientific accuracy and can sometimes lead to misconceptions about the type of work we do and the challenges that face us, such as lack of funding, resources and time!"

Ms La Paz said much of the international science about identifying skeletal remains was based on US studies and the US population.

US-born, she has previously worked for a US Department of Defence agency in Hawaii to identify the skeletal remains of US troops who died in past conflicts, including the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Her research focuses on sex identification, partly using the skull, and 10 sets of human remains from New Zealand, through the Otago Medical School’s body bequest programme.

She has also studied 10 sets of human remains from Thailand, through collaborative research with scientists at the University of Khon Kaen.


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