STUDENTS from a leading Scottish art college have joined forces with one of Britain's top forensic scientists to help speed up the identification of victims of mass disasters - by their jewellery.
The system, being devised as part of a major European-funded project for Interpol, will offer police forces across the globe a possible route towards identification when traditional methods such as DNA analysis and fingerprinting have failed.
For the first time, a common language and terminology will be used to describe jewellery belonging to the victims of major disasters in the hope that matches can be found and vital leads to identification quickly established.
The system is being devised by Master of Design undergraduates at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee and Dundee University's Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID), headed by Professor Sue Black, one of the world's leading forensic anthropologists who has helped identify victims of atrocities in Iraq and Kosovo and those who died in the 2004 tsunami in Thailand.
Professor Black, who also worked as a consultant in the murder prosecution of Fred and Rosemary West, said jewellery found at disaster scenes could tell investigators a lot about a person, especially if the items had religious or cultural significance which helped to narrow the field of possible matches between the victim and the missing person. Inscriptions on rings and other items were also vital clues.
But she explained that attempts at identification were often hampered by the fact that information about jewellery and clothing may be recorded by non-experts who use inconsistent terminology and lack specialist knowledge of the item.
The art college students will compile a standardised identification system which can be used by disaster victim identification teams.
They will be analysing a vast array of images and types of jewellery to develop a common language and terminology for use in future disasters.
Prof Black said: "The victim may be difficult to identify through the more traditional means, for example DNA or fingerprints, and this is where we start looking at alternative means of analysing additional evidence, including personal effects."