GIS Critical to Forensic Investigation

GIS technology is becoming one of the most-important, fastest-growing technologies taught in forensic schools.

At the 2009 Esri EdUC Conference, Australian researchers showed how GIS technology can be used in forensic sciences classes. Using handheld GPS, students considered location-based crimes and how safety can be related to location. “The introduction of GPS and GIS to forensic science was successful in allowing students to examine a problem and present a series of solutions to the class and then develop a group response,” the authors shared in their Esri presentation.

At the University of Toronto Mississauga’s Forensic Anthropology Field School, students are mapping out the crime scene. Considered a new teaching approach, this method creates visual images of various types of data in map format, according to

“Our teaching approach uses existing GPS and GIS technology in a hands-on way, so students can collect data points from crime scenes and then ‘mash’ them with other digital sources such as photos, scanned maps in a computer lab,” said Nicholson, the university’s GIS and data librarian, who is working forensic anthropologist Tracy Rogers. “Many students are visual learners. Using digital mapping applications offers them opportunities for deeper engagement and linking between abstract concepts, practical application, and problem solving.”

Meanwhile, new published evidence in the latest American Journal of Physical Anthropology has shown GIS technology can help identify decaying bodies. Ohio State University researchers used GIS technology to determine whether patterns inside human remains could help solve crimes.

In an interview with, Julie Field, study co-author and assistant professor of anthropology at Ohio State, explained that archaeologists frequently use GIS software to map the location of objects uncovered at an excavation site.

“We try to identify important clusters of objects such as household tools or agricultural tools that would indicate patterns of human activity,” Field said. “Based on certain scientific criteria that you give it, the software gives you a statistical measure of whether the objects you’re looking at actually constitute a cluster.”

David Rose, Field’s co-author and an Ohio State police captain, said bones adapt to the load that’s placed on them. “Patterns of tension and compression show up in our internal bone structure, and this software lets us look at those patterns in a new way,” Rose said on

The researchers used Esri’s ArcGIS, a program Rose used for on-campus security planning. According to the researchers, this is the first time GIS technology has been used to map bone microstructure. In addition to analyzing the skeletal health and bone development, the GIS technology can help forensics identify a dead body based on age, sex and body size.

Rose said to RedOrbit that they just combined the basic principles of GIS and skeletal biology.

“But I believe that there is a tremendous opportunity for advancements at the intersection of both disciplines,” Rose said. “The real advantage to this method is that it offers a new scale for the study of human variation offering to shed light on how we adapt to our surroundings.”


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