Introduction and Context
Jewellery has long been a signifier of belonging and personal identification: marking the wearer as a member of a particular religion, cultural group or life stage. This research describes the initial stages of a research project investigating the role that jewellery design plays in identifying and linking both missing person(s) and disaster victims throughout the various stages involved during the process of Disaster Victim Identification (DVI).
Traditional primary methods of forensic identification such as DNA, odontology, fingerprinting or unique medical identification are invaluable in DVI and are normally conclusive in forming positive identification(s); however they can be compromised in certain disaster situations and in certain areas of the world, dental records and DNA analysis may not be available, therefore personal effects items such as jewellery are increasingly heavily relied upon and accepted as a means of positive identification. Where the reliability of primary identification methods is diminished, secondary and tertiary indicators such as jewellery can play a potentially integral role.
Jewellery itself is considered a ‘secondary’ identifier due to its capacity to deform post mortem, e.g. as a result of burning, immersion in water, or exposure to buried or extreme environment(s) for a prolonged period of time (see Fig. 1). In a jewellery context, what may have once been a golden-coloured ring may deform so dramatically post-disaster that it now resembles a different aesthetic entirely. The fact it may not be attached to a body is problematic; conversely, the concern that jewellery items are interchangeable between people means that they may therefore not be considered definitive proof of identification of the said person they are located upon.
As there is currently no recognised international standard for describing jewellery items, previous attempts at using jewellery as reliable evidence in DVI have therefore often been hampered through use of inconsistent or ambiguous terminology and lack of specialist knowledge regarding the jewellery item in concern. There are therefore inevitable discrepancies between the language used to describe the ante-mortem jewellery data provided by the relatives of missing person(s), and the invariably sporadic post-mortem jewellery remnants recovered from dead bodies or amongst disaster debris.
The compilation of a standardised jewellery identification system and common operational methodology for use by DVI teams is integral in ensuring the maximisation of jewellery’s reliability as evidence in efficient and succinct fast-response procedures post-disaster.
Methods and Approach
This research is concerned with the design of a ‘Forensic Jewellery Identification System’; methods of classification which will better utilise jewellery as evidence throughout DVI. The classification system must incorporate the design of a universal terminology, using a standard system of description that can be recorded and communicated to a wide range of people and organisations involved throughout the various stages of DVI process across the world. A key consideration to the classification’s design is with how data is recorded on Interpol’s current ‘C3’ DVI form, as per DVI protocol. Amendments to the design of the forms themselves cannot be made, thus the classification system must take into account the limitations and restrictions imposed by the forms, whilst complementing their current format.
This research is the result of collaboration between The University of Dundee’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID) and Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art (DJCAD). The complexity of designing a simple system able to encompass the vast range of jewellery available internationally can be addressed using innovative design methods. Reviewing and deconstructing the current DVI form set utilising design methods helped in planning how to approach the project. To tackle these problems, research methods such as interviews, case studies and critical reviews were employed in order to assist in the basic comprehension of DVI process. Interviews with experts in the field of DVI lead to obtaining exclusive insights into first-hand personal experiences of the DVI process, enabling new insight to be gained whilst both reinforcing and dismissing initial impressions of the problems associated with DVI. Through analysing anecdotes and scenarios provided by experts and utilising public case studies wherein jewellery has been the main catalyst in helping solve cold case files or missing person(s) investigations, the importance jewellery can have in identifying a body is highlighted further.
The initial research was synthesised using various design methods including personas and scenarios, paper prototyping and focus groups. Personas and scenarios helped aid with understanding the needs from the perspective of each individual involved in the DVI process, ante-mortem and post-mortem. To develop a physical system, paper prototyping proved to be a cheap and fast way of testing ideas. The current Interpol DVI forms were used as a starting point. Breaking down the forms into their five main categories; ‘Material’, ‘Colour’, ‘Design’, ‘Inscription’ and ‘Where Worn’ assisted in organising a more in-depth system to aid the user with describing an item. Portioning ‘questions’ or ‘prompts’ into a card format helped to gain the most descriptive information from the person filling in the DVI form. The idea of segregating information into more sizeable ‘chunks’ was derived from research into the psychology of eye-witness memory. The process of how forensic artists use cognitive interviewing techniques to draw out details from a witness when reconstructing a face could be applicable to how Family Liaison Officers could obtain more detailed descriptions of jewellery from the family members of missing person(s).
As well as card systems, various physical formats such as spreadsheets, interactive booklets and numerous low-fidelity reiterations were developed. Through initial research, prototypes were used to consider the best format(s) for users both in and out of the field, also considering how they could benefit from an ante-mortem viewpoint (see Fig. 2).
The system has been involved in a website trial which is currently being tested with police officers as part of a larger-scale usability test. This trial intends to establish whether the current category system works in an online format with drop-down menus. The results of this trial have yet to be confirmed.
Feedback from prototype testing allowed insight into how factors such as religious belief(s) and language could affect the efficiency of the system: e.g. words which have multiple meanings or a different meaning in different languages. Testing the card system demonstrated that the initial prototypes was successful in one way, but failed in another. The card system succeeds in the sense that it guides the users to give a better, more detailed description. The system also worked well for particular categories; such as ‘Material’ and ‘Colour’. The language used, however, was still completely void of a coherent ‘match’, especially in the ‘Design’ category. Often user testers used the corresponding numbers already present on the C3 form or prompt words from the cards as descriptors on the actual form, preferring instead to go into more detail on the section ‘G’ part of the form used for recording additional information. Insight derived from the issue of user testers using numbers or prompts was harnessed as a method that could be used rather than discouraged. The opportunity for the development of a ‘coding’ system whereby a particular number would represent a specific descriptor materialized; creating a cladogram type system whereby the user describing an item would be faced with more of a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ route of either identifying or ruling out elements.
Performing this series of testing and examining the findings resulted in the creation of a system which vastly improved descriptions, rather than improving data matching. Another reiteration of the system is needed to restrict the language or choices which can be created in order to create more ‘matches’.
The final deliverables from this research will be a clear and concise jewellery categorising system, an image gallery and a further recommendation report. The categorising system will boost the match count of ante-mortem and post-mortem jewellery to create more potential matches to be explored. An image gallery with exemplar descriptions will aid family members in describing their loved ones items. The recommendation report will include a list of recommendations to be considered to reflect the diverse and modern world we live in.
The present conclusions which can be drawn from this research is that although a secondary form of evidence, jewellery is undoubtedly nonetheless an important method of identification. When utilized in the right context and by applying design research and methodology as a tool by which to filter the concept, jewellery possesses countless potential to narrow further fields of forensic investigation which could ultimately lead to the discovery of primary identification methods, and therefore it is inarguably an integral contributor to the field of DVI.
Although the conclusion(s) and final outcomes of such research are yet to be fully realised, what is and has been evident throughout the discourse of said research is the vitality of jewellery’s role in assisting with the linking and identification of both missing person(s) and disaster victims. Whether assisting in forming the identification of a victim or in providing closure purposes to the families of missing person(s), the impact of the simple but highly emotive act of being able to return an intensely personal item such as jewellery, cannot and should not be underestimated.
Considerations for the future development of this pioneering and innovative research strand should both further build on and contextualise the research already carried out in order to best consider ways in which jewellery design can act as both a reliable bearer and communicator of identity.
The Forensic Jewellery Classification System itself possesses the potential to be developed beyond DVI context: for example, as a standardised reference guide to assist Police and UK authorities in generating jewellery based leads in missing person(s) enquiries, criminal/murder investigations and post-mortem victim identification. There is further scope into the unique personal aspects that are known of a particular jewellery item ante-mortem such as a broken, handmade or faulty element of a piece may have been translated onto or viewed as present upon the body itself. Whether it is a particular watch/bangle that possessed the tendency to ‘nip’ or ‘catch’ the wearer’s skin in turn perhaps leaving a distinguishing mark on their wrist, or the invisible impressions of now absent jewellery upon the skin of an (often decomposing) body; such information has the potential to be informative of far more than just an ill-fitting accessory. The victim’s skin may perhaps now tell a corresponding story about an absent jewellery item that had once been worn, demonstrating a now visible physical discrepancy/irregularity on the body as a result. During DVI procedure following the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami for example, Reflective Ultraviolet (UV) Photography was utilised in order to take advantage of the absorption of long-wave UV light on the victims’ skin. Since UV light penetrated deep into the skin and the victims had been subject to increased UV exposure, when under UV light it was possible to view the impressions of (now absent) jewellery item(s) on the body. Design methods also posses the potential to facilitate better descriptions of the personal, sentiment, idiosyncratic-rich and anecdotally-embellished aspects that the jewellery embodies. This could help facilitate the better recollection of ante-mortem description(s) regarding missing persons’ jewellery items. The importance of the richness of human interaction with jewellery should not be undervalued. An applied human-centred enquiry concerned with how the study of increasing new, intelligent and innovative portable technologies can be harnessed in both a holistic and humanistic approach could contribute to the understanding of jewellery’s potential as an intelligent identification device post-mortem.
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