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The Human Jigsaw: Matching articulating skeletal elements from mass burials

Project description

Finding closure: the sorting of human remains

The deposition of human remains in mass graves is common after events such as a natural disaster or war. In order to achieve the greatest success when sorting the remains of different individuals, proper techniques must be employed. A major limitation of current methods, however, is that they do not take into account the three-dimensional morphology of adjoining surfaces. Addressing this, the EU-funded Human Jigsaw project will combine state-of-the-art techniques in three-dimensional geometric morphometrics and machine learning for the sorting of human remains.


The “Human Jigsaw” will address the key issue of sorting commingled human remains, by amalgamating state-of-the-art techniques in three dimensional geometric morphometrics and machine learning. The deposition of multiple bodies in mass graves has been common practice worldwide after warfare, natural disasters or as part of the funerary treatment of the deceased. In Cyprus, where this project is to be materialized, the events that took place in 1963-64 and 1974 have resulted in an unspecified number of individuals having been buried in mass graves, of which over 2000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots are still missing. Commingling, the mixing of the skeletal elements of different individuals, is a grave issue in such contexts. A major limitation of current methods for sorting the remains of different individuals is that they do not effectively take into account the three-dimensional morphology of adjoining surfaces. The “Human Jigsaw” will focus on matching the main elements of the lower skeleton (os coxae, femora, tibiae), which are the elements that provide basic biological profile information (age, sex and stature). The produced methods will be subsequently applied in Minoan and pre-Mycenaean assemblages, addressing issues of the post-mortem treatment of the dead. The “Human Jigsaw” will have major implications in forensic anthropology as it will facilitate the identification of unknown subjects. In bioarchaeological contexts, the results of this project will have implications in archaeothanatology and funerary taphonomy by allowing a more accurate assessment of the palaeodemographic profile of the deceased who were deposited in mass burials.

Call for proposal


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Net EU contribution
€ 157 941,12
Constantinou kavafi 20
2121 Nicosia

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Κύπρος Κύπρος Κύπρος
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00