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01.03.2011 | TECHNICAL NOTE | Ausgabe 2/2011

International Journal of Legal Medicine 2/2011

A new atlas for the evaluation of facial features: advantages, limits, and applicability

International Journal of Legal Medicine > Ausgabe 2/2011
Stefanie Ritz-Timme, Peter Gabriel, Zuzana Obertovà, Melanie Boguslawski, F. Mayer, A. Drabik, Pasquale Poppa, Danilo De Angelis, Romina Ciaffi, Benedetta Zanotti, Daniele Gibelli, Cristina Cattaneo
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1007/​s00414-010-0446-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.


Methods for the verification of the identity of offenders in cases involving video-surveillance images in criminal investigation events are currently under scrutiny by several forensic experts around the globe. The anthroposcopic, or morphological, approach based on facial features is the most frequently used by international forensic experts. However, a specific set of applicable features has not yet been agreed on by the experts. Furthermore, population frequencies of such features have not been recorded, and only few validation tests have been published. To combat and prevent crime in Europe, the European Commission funded an extensive research project dedicated to the optimization of methods for facial identification of persons on photographs. Within this research project, standardized photographs of 900 males between 20 and 31 years of age from Germany, Italy, and Lithuania were acquired. Based on these photographs, 43 facial features were described and evaluated in detail. These efforts led to the development of a new model of a morphologic atlas, called DMV atlas (“Düsseldorf Milan Vilnius,” from the participating cities). This study is the first attempt at verifying the feasibility of this atlas as a preliminary step to personal identification by exploring the intra- and interobserver error. The analysis yielded mismatch percentages from 19% to 39%, which reflect the subjectivity of the approach and suggest caution in verifying personal identity only from the classification of facial features. Nonetheless, the use of the atlas leads to a significant improvement of consistency in the evaluation.

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