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How a smile on social media can help identify a deceased


Forensic anthropologists identify faces from photos posted on social media or sent to family and friends

A smile captured in a photograph can identify deceased people far from their environment or in countries with deficiencies in terms of the usual databases in forensic anthropology.

This has been discovered by the investigation of Inmaculada Alemán Aguilera, professor of Physical Anthropology at the University of Granada, and of the Polish forensic anthropologists Melania Mazur and Katarzyna Górka.

All three have published a study in the journal

Forensic Science International

showing that a photo of someone smiling allows that person to be identified if they die in an environment where there is no access to their dental record, DNA profile or fingerprint database.

The smile is necessary because this gesture exposes the incisor and canine teeth, fundamental in identification.

The outline of the upper incisors and canines in the photo allows the researchers to draw a line that, when compared with another similar image of the remains to be identified, makes it possible to ensure their correct affiliation.

This identification method, in fact, has been put into practice with good results in real and difficult circumstances: in the last two years it has served to identify at least a dozen migrants who drowned during their journey to Europe in the Mediterranean.

The impossibility of accessing medical or police databases in third countries makes it necessary, in these cases, to look for alternative identification methods.

One of the images used in the study.

And the work of the anthropologist from the University of Granada revolves around this in recent years.

With more than two decades of work in the identification of human beings, forensic anthropology revolves around the study and recognition of corpses that are difficult to identify, either because they died years, decades or centuries ago or because they are remains found in difficult contexts. such as dictatorships or migrations, among others.

Alemán has worked with Egyptian mummies, Civil War exhumations, and unidentified migrants as well.

“This type of identification always requires comparison.

We always need something from before and after death”, explains Alemán.



The most reliable and common, he continues, are of three types: a dental record, fingerprints or DNA.

“But that is not always available.

In many cases, moreover, these databases do not even exist in the countries of origin of the people who die during their migration, for example”, he adds.

Three years ago they launched research to develop new and less conventional identification methods.

The photographs seemed like a good resource to start this new journey.

“Right now, there are photos of just about everyone in the world that are, in one way or another, easily accessible.

Either because the person himself has posted them on social networks like Facebook or Instagram or because they have been sent to friends or family,” says Alemán.

In the case of migrants, even, “many of them send photos before leaving to their acquaintances in Europe.

This material is what we work with”.

In this work by comparison, the smiling photos allow not only to draw the dental contour line necessary

before mortem

to compare it with the

post mortem

, but also make it possible to find some specific characteristic of the teeth ―dental torsions, space greater than usual between some teeth, etc... - that give all the reliability to the identity of the deceased.

Inmaculada Alemán speaks of a system that is “still experimental” but that in practice is already showing itself to be very useful.

Its efficacy in the theoretical study reaches 82% of positive identification, to which is added 11% of “tolerable” identification, with certain inconsistencies in a couple of teeth.

In 7% of cases it was impossible to identify the subject.

"At this time", details the anthropologist from Granada, "these percentages are lower than those achieved with international protocols - the three mentioned are the only recognized ones, dactyloscopy, dentistry and genetics -, but in many contexts there is no other option than resort to alternative techniques.

In cases where this method has been used to identify people who have died in the Mediterranean, the new system has made it possible to alleviate the pain of many families.

The anthropologist explains the process, which always involves finding evidence of when the person lived, something that is not particularly complicated in these situations.

“Migrants usually come in groups and, more or less, we know when they leave and with whom.

With that and the help of NGOs, we can access friends or relatives who provide us with these images.

Without it, it would be almost impossible, since these people cannot have their fingerprints checked or find a dentist who has treated them, if it has ever happened”, concludes the anthropologist.

The Granada and Polish researchers who have set up this research also wanted to know how the type of lens used in the photographs affected a possible distortion in that dental line generated from the photo to make the comparison.

Certain deformations and curvatures occur, especially with wide angles, explains the study, but "in our case, says Alemán Aguilera, practically all the photos used or published on social networks are made with mobile phones and we have verified that there are no alterations substantial changes in the results.

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Source: elparis

All tech articles on 2022-10-05

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