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MORPH2016: Measuring our models

Sian ESmith5 July 2016

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Morphometric Applications in Archaeology and Anthropology

Our friends in the Institute of Archaeology (IOA) hosted a conference last month- Morph2016 : Morphometric Applications in Archaeology and Anthropology

Geometric morphometrics (GMM) is the quantitative measurement of morphological shape using geometric co-ordinates, rather than just measurements. Using CAD (computer assisted design) methods the geometry of an object can be captured with outline and landmark data, and 3D surface representations. Morphometric-based methods are increasingly used in diverse areas such as molecular genetics and environmental science, but they have become particularly relevant in archaeology and anthropology.

There was a wide variety of speakers including some of our CFS researchers and from the IOA.

Agathe Ribereau Gayon gave a presentation on an important discovery in her research so far. She observed a unique type of trauma on human remains in an oceanic environment; she discussed how she utilised 2D-photogrammetric methods to capture and categorise the geometric data of the trauma.

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Agathe presenting her research

 

I presented a poster on my MRes project; a ‘proof of methodology’ study on the use of 3D-photogrammetry (specifically structure from motion) for modelling and analysing sharp-force trauma on bone. 3D-photogrammetry is commonly used in large-scale modelling of built environments and archaeological sites for example. By using macro lenses and adjusting the lighting conditions I have been able to apply this on a much smaller scale to create interactive models with sufficient details for weapon classification. We achieved a high level of success in distinguishing serrated from non-serrated blade edges, when compared to the current standard method of Scanning Electron Microscopy. 

 

My research poster

My research poster

Lily Stokoe, from the Institute of Archaeology, has been utilising 3D scanning to study the aetiology of osteoarthritis. This is an enduring mystery for osteologists and medical researchers. Using the 3D scans, she is able to take accurate measurements of the angles in the femur to identify potential biomechanical and lifestyle causes.

Dr Carolyn Rando talked about the challenges of integrating morphometrics into teaching. It has become an important part of how we analyse geometric data in archaeology and anthropology, but if you have a room full of students with different levels of tech skill, how do you make it accessible to all of them? By getting hands on with a simple, structured practical taking measurements from a skull, beginners through to more advanced students can understand where these methods can be beneficial.

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Carolyn giving her talk on teaching morphometrics

 

Since Carolyn started teaching this, the IOA has gone from having very few students working in GMM to having a wide range of Msc and PhD students working on different applications of 2D and 3D imaging methods.

The committee organised a great conference; with the diverse group of speakers the conference explored a range of methodologies, practical applications, and key issues in the field.

 

Catch up with the tweets from the event with #MORPH2016

 

Fingerprinting – Where Chemistry and Forensic Science Can Come Together

WilliamPeveler26 May 2014

Researchers at Hanyang University in Seoul have recently published work in Nature Communications describing a new polymeric material they have developed, which is capable of mapping sweat pores in the human fingerprint at high resolution (doi). The polymer changes colour and becomes fluorescent when exposed to moisture (hydrochromic), even at low concentrations, and thus when a finger mark is deposited on a sample of the material, a point pattern fluorescent image is generated which can be recorded with fluorescent microscopy. The researchers go on to compare a selection of these to ninhydrin-stained latent marks, also exhibiting pore structure, to show a good match. They argue in their paper that the analysis of sweat pores in marks, rather than the typically used ridge structures, means that an incomplete or indistinct mark can still be used to generate a match if sweat pores are available. They neglect to discuss, however, the availability of sweat pore location information in lifted marks; and all their analysed marks were deposited directly onto the polymer itself or digitally scanned, rather than a more realistic examination of real world marks against their material as a reference.

It is exciting to see work with a strong forensic component featuring in such a high impact publication, beyond the normal forensic science journals, and this is partly due to the high quality chemistry content regarding the design and synthesis of their new polymeric material, and an in depth analysis of its hydrochromic properties. There is a good chance that this work will be widely covered in the popular-science and lay media too, due to the all-important CSI effect (e.g. here). However, are the results reported actually important forensically – or are they merely a handle to boost a good supramolecular chemistry paper to being a superstar nature paper? As the Korean authors admit, the materials they describe are not entirely novel; this class of polymers was first posited for mark development by an Australian group led by Tahtouh in 2011 (doi). However this initial research was published in Forensic Science International, where no doubt it escaped the notice of much of the chemical sciences and of the wider establishment, despite its forensic rigour in investigating the application of these polymers as mark developers on a variety of surfaces.

So maybe there are two messages that can be taken from this paper. Firstly, the mapping of sweat pores within finger marks may be an important part of dactyloscopy in the future, with the advent of new materials such as these allowing easy collection of sweat pore information.

However, a second message to take away might be that; if, as a forensic scientist you’ve stumbled across what you feel might be the next big thing, maybe get together with a chemist/physicist/etc. and big up the background science, and offer it to a journal beyond the forensic sphere. For example FSI has an impact factor of ~2.3 whereas Angewandte Chemie Int. Ed. scores ~13.7, and as evidenced by a recent spate of fingerprinting related papers they have published, the latter loves a good forensic science article. The chemists carrying out this fundamental research into novel development agents and materials often do not understand the intricacies and limitations of day-to-day practitioner case work, and the forensic scientists working on minor improvements to their well honed but basic techniques often do not look at the high-level theoretical work going on to further their ideas –it’s time to get the two together and then maybe there could be a lot more Nature papers on forensic science.

Many thanks to Helen Earwaker for informative discussion. Lee et al. 2014 “Hydrochromic conjugated polymers for human sweat pore mapping”. Nature Comms, 5, 3736 – is available as an open access paper from dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms4736.