An investigation into 3D printing of osteological remains – the metrology and ethics of virtual anthropology

This project aims to validate the use of 3D printing human remains for use in court.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Rachael Carew
Police region
Level of research
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

Forensic anthropologists can utilise radiographic technologies to visualise skeletal elements without disturbing remains. This in turn facilitates the exhibition of evidence in court through virtual 3D models (such as those reconstructed from CT scans).

Recent technology allows this virtual model to be printed out into a physical 3D object, something potentially much more accessible and understandable to a lay jury.

However, this novel technique requires validation before 3D printed osteological remains can be acceptable in court, thus the following main issues have been identified for investigation:

  • the metrology
  • the ethical considerations surrounding 3D printing human remains
  • their effect on a jury when used as evidence


There are currently no standards for 3D printing human remains. Through taking anthropometric measurements from 3D printed representations and comparing them to the original source bone, we aim to validate these methods for future use by showing the measurements to be both accurate and reliable.


The second issue identified concerns the ethics of 3D printing human remains. This research will explore the ethics behind reproducing remains and discuss the long-term storage and disposal of 3D printed representations, ultimately making recommendations for future use.

Interpretation of Evidence

An investigation into the effect of virtual and physical 3D models when presented to a jury to explain skeletal injuries, compared with traditional photographic evidence.


Validation of 3D printing human remains for use in court through empirical research could be beneficial to the other forensic disciplines, such as fingerprinting and crime scene reconstruction, and could also impact on wider academic communities.

Research methodology

This research will use computed tomography (CT) scanning technology (medical, dental and micro-CT) to obtain scan data from archaeological human bone samples, and existing modern forensic CT scans of trauma.

The research will also undertake virtual/computer modelling of the CT scan data using open-source software, such as 3D Slicer and Blender and well as 3D printing of the virtual models using a variety of printers and materials.

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