Estimating the Number of Individuals Represented by Commingled Human Remains: A Critical Evaluation of Methods.

Lyle W. Konigsberg, Bradley J. Adams

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Much of the literature that deals with various quantification techniques comes from faunal analysis. Generally, there are two goals of these techniques when working with animal remains. The first is to quantify the deposited/recovered faunal assemblage and from these data extrapolate information about past hominid behavior. The results of such studies attempt to draw conclusions concerning human diet, animal procurement strategies, and predator-prey relationships. The second goal is directed toward quantifying the recovered faunal assemblage to reconstruct the living community of animals. The results of these types of studies attempt to draw conclusions concerning faunal turnover and succession, reconstruction of paleoenvironmental conditions, and geographic faunal patterns. When one is working with commingled human remains, the goal of quantification is obviously to estimate the total number of dead, and many of the techniques developed for faunal analysis are not appropriate. Exceptions are the minimum number of individuals (MNI) and the Lincoln Index (LI). In paleodemographic studies, estimation of the number of individuals is critical for the interpretation of past cultures, whereas in the forensic context, it is vital for the identification process and for possible criminal trials. In general, most discussions concerning the quantification of commingled human remains revolve around the MNI. Certainly one of the reasons for the popularity of the MNI is the ease of its calculation. Another reason is that physical anthropologists may not be familiar with other options. Research has shown that the Lincoln Index is a viable option for dealing with human remains, and one that is not significantly more complicated than the MNI in its calculation. A more statistically accurate modification of the LI has been presented; it is called the most likely number of individuals, or MLNI. As such, a significant portion of this chapter discusses the MLNI in place of the LI. These alternatives to the MNI provide physical anthropologists with more analytical power when dealing with commingled remains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCommingled Human Remains
Subtitle of host publicationMethods in Recovery, Analysis, and Identification
PublisherElsevier Inc.
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9780124059184
ISBN (Print)9780124058897
StatePublished - Jun 17 2014


  • Abrasion
  • Confidence interval
  • Disarticulation
  • Dispersal
  • Fossilization
  • Fragmentation
  • Highest density region
  • Lincoln Index
  • Minimum number of individuals
  • Most likely number of individuals
  • Quantification technique
  • Scattering
  • Taphonomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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