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Discoveries From the Forensic Anthropology Data Base: Modern American Skeletal Change & the Case of Amelia Earhart

NCJ Number
Faseb Journal Volume: 33 Dated: 2019
Date Published
10 pages
This article reviews the history of the Forensic Anthropology Database (FDB), including some major developments and discoveries of the FDB.

In the mid-1980s the University of Tennessee (UT) Anthropology Department began accumulating data from forensic cases that came into its laboratory and others around the country, providing the first insight into skeletal changes occurring in the past 150 years. In the 1980s, the UT Forensic Anthropology Center founded a willed body program to study human decomposition. The donated body program formed the basis for an unprecedented collection of modern American skeletons for skeletal biology research. This began the Forensic Anthropology Database (FDB), which now contains osteometric data from just over 4,000 individuals, most of them of known age, sex, and ancestry, as well as height, weight, place of birth, place of death, and other premortem biological characteristics of interest (e.g. handedness, pathologies, occupation). The FDB database has resulted in a number of major developments and discoveries, three of which are summarized in this presentation: 1) Documentation of remarkable change in cranial and postcranial morphology in the past 150 years; 2) Development of a software package, Fordisc 3.1, that uses the FDB and sophisticated statistical algorithms to estimate sex, ancestry, and height from bone measurements; and 3) Probable identification of Amelia Earhart by comparing estimates of her bone lengths based on photographs to lengths of bones found on Nikumaroro Island in 1940. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2019