A researcher at Des Moines University is trying to prove that spaces in skulls should be used as another legal identification technique for skeletons.

Lauren Butaric is an associate professor of anatomy. “We have air spaces in our skull, and the only time we really think about them is when we are sick and think our head is about to implode, you get all that sinus pressure,” Butaric says. “That’s what I look at — I look at how they vary and why they vary.” She says there is a particular set of sinuses she’s exploring.

“If you put your finger right above your nose bridge and on either side of your eyes, this sinus space is actually really individualistic. It’s called the fingerprint of the skull for this reason,” according to Butaric. “Even identical twins have different sizes or different shaped sinuses.”

Butric says identifying people by the sinuses in their skulls has been used for many years. But she says there are many different methods for doing this and she says there needs to some questions answered to have the process hold up in court.

“Are the methods you are using reliable? Have they been scientifically tested and validated?. As to date, there’s numerous methods for using the sinuses — but they are as widely validated — they haven’t been tested over, and over, and over again,” Butaric says.  She says using sinuses won’t replace DNA, but would add another tool for identifying bodies — especially those which have decomposed.

“What we’re really looking at is just general aspects about how the sinus varies in individuals — particularly individuals of different ages. Just preliminary data in trying to determine how different factors might affect certain methods,” according to Butaric. She says there needs to be an x-ray or scan taken of the victim before they died to be used to make an identification, but says that has become more common.

Butaric has received a two-year grant from the National Institute of Justice for nearly $358,000 to fund her study.