Skeletal estimation and identification in American and East European populations

Erin H. Kimmerle, Richard L. Jantz, Lyle W Konigsberg, Jose Pablo Baraybar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Forensic science is a fundamental transitional justice issue as it is imperative for providing physical evidence of crimes committed and a framework for interpreting evidence and prosecuting violations to International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The evaluation of evidence presented in IHL trials and the outcomes various rulings by such courts have in regard to the accuracy or validity of methods applied in future investigations is necessary to ensure scientific quality. Accounting for biological and statistical variation in the methods applied across populations and the ways in which such evidence is used in varying judicial systems is important because of the increasing amount of international forensic casework being done globally. Population variation or the perceived effect of such variation on the accuracy and reliability of methods is important as it may alter trial outcomes, and debates about the scientific basis for human variation are now making their way into international courtrooms. Anthropological data on population size (i.e., the minimum number of individuals in a grave), demographic structure (i.e., the age and sex distribution of victims), individual methods applied for identification, and general methods of excavation and trauma analysis have provided key evidence in cases of IHL. More generally, the question of population variation and the applicability of demographic methods for estimating individual and population variables is important for American and International casework in the face of regional population variation, immigrant populations, ethnic diversity, and secular changes. The reliability of various skeletal aging methods has been questioned in trials prosecuted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Prosecutor of the Tribunal against Radislav Krstiċ (Case No. IT-98-33, Trial Judgment) and again in the currently ongoing trial of The Prosecutor of the Tribunal against Zdravko Tolimir, Radivolje Miletiċ, Milan Gvero, Vinko Pandureviċ, Ljubisa Beara, Vujadin Popoviċ, Drago Nikoliċ, Milorad Trbiċ, Ljubomir Borovcanin (IT-05-88-PT, Second Amended Indictment). Following the trial of General Krstiċ, a collaborative research project was developed between the Forensic Anthropology Center at The University of Tennessee (UT) and the United Nations, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Office of the Prosecutor (ICTY). The purpose of that collaboration was to investigate methods used for the demographic analysis of forensic evidence and where appropriate to recalibrate methods for individual estimation of age, sex, and stature for specific use in the regions of the former Yugoslavia. The question of "local standards" and challenges to the reliability of current anthropological methods for biological profiling in international trials of IHL, as well as the performance of such methods to meet the evidentiary standards used by international tribunals is investigated. Anthropological methods for estimating demographic parameters are reviewed. An overview of the ICTY-UT collaboration for research aimed at addressing specific legal issues is discussed and sample reliability for Balkan aging research is tested. The methods currently used throughout the Balkans are discussed and estimated demographic parameters obtained through medico-legal death investigations are compared with identified cases. Based on this investigation, recommendations for improving international protocols for evidence collection, presentation, and research are outlined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)524-532
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Forensic Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2008


  • Age at death
  • Balkans
  • Forensic science
  • Human rights
  • Identification
  • Population variation
  • Sex estimation
  • Stature
  • Transitional justice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Genetics


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