Forensic anthropology, handheld x ray fluorescence, elemental analysis, human identification, chemical anthropology


Forensic anthropologists normally examine bone from a variety of medicolegal contexts. The skeletal remains may in some cases be highly fragmented or taphonomically modified, making it difficult to sort bone from non-bone material. In these cases, the forensic anthropologist may rely on microscopic or destructive chemical analyses to sort the material. However, these techniques are costly and time-intensive, prompting the use of nondestructive analytical methods in distinguishing bone and teeth from non-bone materials in a limited number of cases. The proposed analytical techniques are limited in that they rely on an examination of the major elements in the material, and do not sort out all materials with a similar chemical composition to bone/teeth. To date, no methods have been proposed for the use of handheld Xray fluorescence (HHXRF) spectrometry in discriminating human and nonhuman bone/teeth from non-bone materials. The purpose of this research was to develop a method for the use of HHXRF spectrometry in forensic anthropology specifically related to distinguishing human and nonhuman bone and teeth from non-bone materials of a similar chemical composition using multivariate statistical analyses: principal components analysis (PCA), linear discriminant analysis (LDA), quadratic discriminant analysis (QDA), and hierarchical cluster analysis (HCA). This was accomplished in two phases. Phase 1 consisted of a Reliability Test and involved sampling a single human long bone in thirty locations. Multiple spectra were collected at each location to examine the reliability of the instrument in detecting the elements both within a single site and between multiple sites. The results of the Reliability Test indicated that HHXRF consistently detected the major and minor elements found on the surface of a human bone. iv These results were used for Phase 2, designated the Accuracy Test, which involved analyzing a set of materials compiled from the literature to test the accuracy of the technique in discriminating bone (human and nonhuman) and non-bone samples (other biological and nonbiological). The results of the Accuracy Test indicate that osseous and dental tissue can be distinguished from non-bone material of similar chemical composition with a high degree of accuracy (94%) when data is collected from several locations on a sample and analyzed separately during multivariate statistical analyses. Overall, it was not possible to discriminate rock apatite and synthetic hydroxyapatite (synthetic bone) from bone. However, this technique successfully discriminated other non-bone materials that are chemically similar to bone, such as ivory and octocoral, which previous methods focusing on only a comparison of Ca/P ratios were unable to distinguish from bone.


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Graduation Date





Schultz, John


Master of Arts (M.A.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program









Release Date

August 2014

Length of Campus-only Access

1 year

Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Sciences, Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic

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Anthropology Commons