Historical Routes and Current Practice for Personal Identification

  • Eugénia Cunha
  • Cristina Cattaneo


This article is about identification of cadavers and human remains, focusing mainly on the more accepted methods to establish identity. Emphasis is provided on the methods applied to bodies in an advanced state of decomposition and/or skeletonized and the contribution of each sub-discipline in the field of identification, including anthropology, odontology, genetics, imagiology and dactiloscopy. Some insights on the history of personal identification and emerging issues and future perspectives are discussed, such as the need of implementation of best practices to identification and the comparative phase of identification. To do this, is of paramount importance that all the countries adopt a same policy to collect ante and post mortem data, which has been claimed by all international agencies dealing with this subject.


  1. 1.
    Cattaneo C, Tidball Binz M, Penados L, Prieto J, Finegan O, Grandi M (2015) The forgotten tragedy of unidentified dead in the Mediterranean. Forensic Sci Int 250:e1–2Google Scholar
  2. 2.
  3. 3.
  4. 4.
    International Committee of the Red Cross. Accessed 17 Nov 2016
  5. 5.
    Cattaneo C, Porta D, De Angelis D, Gibelli D, Poppa P, Grandi M (2010) Unidentified bodies and human remains: an Italian glimpse through a European problem. Forensic Sci Int 195(1–3):167.e1–6Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Thompson T, Black S (eds) (2007) Forensic human identification. CRC Press, Boca RatonGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Black S (2007) Identity. In: Thompson T, Black S (eds) Forensic Human identification: An Introduction. CRC Press, Boca RatonGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Galloway V, Charlton D (2007) Fingerprints. In: Thompson T, Black S (eds) Forensic Human identification. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 57–72Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Jeffreys AJ, Allen MJ, Hagelberg E, Sonnberg A (1992) Identification of the skeletal remains of Josef Mengele by DNA analysis. Forensic Sci Int 56(1):65–76CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Kimmerle E, Falsetti A, Ross A (2010) Immigrants, undocumented workers, runaways, transients and the homeless: towards contextual identification among unidentified decedents. Forensic Sci Policy Manage Int J 1(4):178–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Hagelberg E, Gray IC, Jeffreys AJ (1991) Identification of the skeletal remains of a murder victim by DNA analysis. Nature 352(6334):427–429CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Cunha E, Lima M (2016) Complicities between forensic anthropology and forensic genetics: new opportunities for genomics? In: Lima M, Ramos A, Santos C (eds) Genomics in biological anthropology: new challenges, new opportunities. Bentham Science Publishers, pp 206–218(13)Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Quatrehomme G (2015) Traité d’anthropologie medico-légale. De Boeck, LouvainGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Navega D, Coelho C, Vicente R, Ferreira MT, Wasterlain S, Cunha E (2015) Ancestrees: ancestry estimation with randomized decision trees. Int J Legal Med 129(5):1145–1153. doi: 10.1007/s00414-0141050-9CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Kahana T, Hiss J (1997) Identification of human remains: forensic radiology. J Clin Forensic Med 4(1):7–15CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Mann RW (1998) Use of bone trabeculae to establish positive identification. Forensic Sci Int 30;98(1–2):91–99Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Cunha E (2006) Pathology as a factor of personal identity in Forensic Anthropology. In: Schmitt A, Cunha E, Pinheiro J (eds) Forensic anthropology and medicine. Complementary sciences from recovery to cause of death. Humana Press, Tottowa, pp 333–358Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Cunha E, Pinheiro J (2013) Bone Pathology and Antemortem Trauma. In: Siegel JA, Saukko PJ (eds) Encyclopedia of forensic sciences, vol 1, 2nd edn. Academic Press, Waltham, pp 76–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Ubelaker D, Jacobs D (1995) Identification of orthopedic device manufacturer. J Forensic Sci 40(2):168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Clarkson J, Schaefer M (2007) Surgical intervention. In: Thompson T, Black S (eds) Forensic human identification. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 127–146Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Besana JL, Rogers TL (2010) Personal identification using the frontal sinus. J Forensic Sci 55(3):584–589CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Thali MJ, Yen K, Schweitzer W et al (2003) Virtopsy, a new imaging horizon in forensic pathology: virtual autopsy by postmortem multislice computed tomography (MSCT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)—a feasibility study. J Forensic Sci 48(2):386–403CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Dedouit F, Telmon N, Costagliola R, Otal P, Florence LL, Joffre F, Rougé D (2007) New identification possibilities with postmortem multislice computed tomography. Int J Legal Med 121(6):507–510CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Dedouit F, Savall F, Mokrane FZ, Rousseau H, Crubézy E, Rougé D, Telmon N (2014) Virtual anthropology and forensic identification using multidetector CT. Br J Radiol 87(1036):20130468CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Hines E, Rock C, Viner M (2007) Radiography. In: Thompson T, Black S (eds) Forensic human identification. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 221–228Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Harris AMP, Wood RE, Nortje CJ, Thomas CJ (1987) The frontal sinus: a forensic fingerprint? A pilot study. J Forensic Odontostomatol 5:9–15PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Quatrehomme G, Biglia E, Padovani B, du Jardin P, Alunni V (2014) Positive identification by X-rays bone trabeculae comparison. Forensic Sci Int 245:e11–4Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Campobasso CP, Dell’Erba AS, Belviso M, Di Vella G (2007) Craniofacial identification by comparison of antemortem and postmortem radiographs: two case reports dealing with burnt bodies. Am J Forensic Med Pathol 28(2):182–186CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Gonçalves D, Cunha E, Thompson TJ (2015) Estimation of the pre burning condition of human remains in forensic contexts. Int J Legal Med 129(5):1137–1143. doi: 10.1007/500414-014-1027-8CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Cattaneo C, Angelis D, Porta D, Grandi M (2006) Personal identification of cadavers and human reamins. In: Schmitt A, Cunha E, Pinheiro J (eds) Forensic anthropology and medicine. Complementary sciences from recovery to cause of death. Humana Press, Tottowa, pp 359–382Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    De Angelis D, Sala R, Cantatore A, Grandi M, Cattaneo C (2009) A new computer-assisted technique to aid personal identification. Int J Legal Med 123(4):351–6Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Gowland R, Thompson T (2013) Human identity and identification. Cambridge University Press, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Paulozzi LJ, Cox CS, Williams DD, Nolte KB (2008) John and Jane Doe: the epidemiology of unidentified decedents. J Forensic Sci 53(4):922–927CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Anderson BE (2008) Identifying the dead: methods utilized by the Pima County (Arizona) office of the medical examiner for undocumented border crossers: 2001–2006. J Forensic Sci 53(1):8–15CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Ross AH, Lanfear AK, Maxwell AB (2016) Establishing Standards for Side-by-Side Radiographic Comparisons. Am J Forensic Med Pathol 37(2):86–94CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Ciaffi R, Gibelli D, Cattaneo C (2011) Forensic radiology and personal identification of unidentified bodies: a review: Radiol med 116:960–968PubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Christensen AM, Crowder CM (2009) Evidentiary standards for forensic anthropology. J Forensic Sci 54(6):1211–1216CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Forensic Anthropology Society of Europe. Accessed 17 Nov 2016

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Forensic Anthropology, Centre of Functional Ecology, Department of Life SciencesUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal
  2. 2.LABANOF, Laboratory of Forensic Anthropology and Odontology, Department of Health and Biomedical Sciences, Section of Legal MedicineUniversity of MilanMilanItaly

Personalised recommendations