UH West Oʻahu faculty and student team conducts forensic anthropology research at UT Knoxville

Photo of Dr. Byrnes and Samantha Torres

Dr. Jennifer Byrnes looks on as UHWO student Samantha Torres examines remains at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville this summer.

This summer, UH West Oʻahu Assistant Professor of Forensic Anthropology Dr. Jennifer Byrnes and UHWO forensic anthropology student Samantha Torres worked on a collaborative research project at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville together with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s Dr. Gregory Berg and UT Knoxville’s Dr. Michael Kenyhercz.

Using specimens from the William M. Bass Donated Skeletal Collection housed at UT Knoxville’s Forensic Anthropology Center, the researchers set out to examine the jaw of individuals of different ancestries, ages, and sexes in order to test the accuracy of measurements and structural features proposed to indicate specific demographic groups. The demographic information of the examined specimens was known, providing the team an invaluable opportunity to compare their results.

Dr. Gregory Berg examined portions of the William M. Bass Donated Skeletal Collection for his dissertation research and proposed current analyses of the mandible (jaw) in 2008.

No specific test of Dr. Berg’s research has been undertaken for these mandibular traits until now,” said Byrnes. “Having individuals with varying levels of experience read and record the traits will reveal how well the trait and measurement descriptions are understood. Since creating a biological profile and reaching an identification is the goal of examining human skeletal remains in forensic anthropology, the accuracy in recording information that could potentially result in different answers is of the utmost importance.”

This collaborative research is meant to advance the field of forensic anthropology by potentially leading to new analyses that quantify multiple physical traits simultaneously in order to associate an unknown specimen with a specific sex or ancestry category.

The project was funded by a UH West Oʻahu Budget and Resource Committee Research Travel Grant.

Dr. Jennifer Byrnes received her doctorate from the University at Buffalo in physical anthropology and joined the UH West Oʻahu faculty in 2014. She is the faculty advisor for the UHWO certificate of applied forensic anthropology and works closely with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), the Honolulu County Medical Examiner’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Leeward Community College, and University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Anthropology Department. She worked with the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in New York City Forensic Anthropology unit, deployed on a recovery mission to Vietnam with the DPAA, and conducted bioarchaeology excavations in western New York State and Turkey. Byrnes teaches Physical Anthropology, Forensic Investigations, Human Skeletal Biology, Human Ecological Adaptations, and Senior Practicum courses at UH West Oʻahu.

Samantha Torres will graduate with a certificate of applied forensic anthropology in fall 2015 along with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences from UH West Oʻahu. She plans to pursue graduate school in forensic anthropology following graduation.

Image courtesy of Michael Kenyhercz