The researcher Cecilia García Campos has led a study by the Dental Anthropology Group of the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH) which has just been published in American Journal of Physical Anthropology, on a new methodology of forensic identification developed to establish the sex of deceased persons with a reliability of 92%, by applying micro-computed tomography (microCT).
Thanks to this microCT technique, widely used in the field of paleoanthropology, the Dental Anthropology Group has been able to study the internal structure of a broad forensic dentistry sample from the School of Legal Medicine in Madrid, as well as from different South African and Sudanese institutions, and thus to identify differences in the dental tissues (enamel and dentine) of the canines belonging to present-day men and women.
“We've applied a technique we were already using with the fossil remains of Atapuerca to explore the internal structures of the canines of more than 60 men and women, to look for characteristic features which would help to determine their sex, and the results have given us a reliability of close to 100%”, comments García Campos.
With this X-ray technique, it is possible to obtain very high-resolution three-dimensional reconstructions of the external and internal structures of bone remains, which over the last 10 years has allowed the information that can be gleaned from fossil humans to increase exponentially.
“Specifically, its application has allowed features distinguishing the teeth of Neanderthals from those of present populations to be identified, by observing their internal structures”, she explains.
Over the next few years it is hoped to be able to extend this research to studying the milk teeth from the four "Ratoncito Pérez" (Spanish fantasy character equivalent of the Tooth Fairy) Tooth Collection Campaigns”, held on European Researchers' Night. This is a citizen science initiative coordinated by the Dental Anthropology Group to create the most complete collection of deciduous dental pieces in the world.
“These future studies could turn out to be of great significance because, contrary to what happens in adult skeletons, children do not have well-defined sexual features in their bone structures, and therefore analyzing their teeth using microCT might be the only way to determine their sex beyond DNA techniques”, affirms this CENIEH researcher.