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Keywords:

  • forensic science;
  • X-rays;
  • skeletal identification;
  • forensic anthropology;
  • clavicle;
  • vertebrae

Abstract:  This study investigated the value of antemortem (AM) and postmortem (PM) radiographs of the claviculae and C3-T4 vertebrae to identify skeletons of missing U.S. soldiers from past military operations. In total, 12 field-recovered skeletons and AM chest radiographs of 1460 individuals were used. For each skeleton, examiners analyzed an array of AM chest radiographs (up to 1000 individuals) and attempted to identify the correct PM/AM radiographic match. When examiners were able to compare all images within a single test, only true-positive identifications were made. When AM radiographs were presented one-at-a-time, in sequential order, and without examiners having knowledge of array size, erroneous identifications resulted but they were almost exclusively made by untrained examiners (accuracy = 35% vs. 90% for trained examiners). This study demonstrates the value of chest radiographs for the identification of disarticulated and even eroded skeletons, but only when methods are wielded by trained examiners.