University of Dundee

CAHID scientists seek tattoos and piercings for victim identification database

28 Nov 2011

The Centre for Anatomy and Human identification at CLS is making an international appeal for people to send them images of their tattoos, piercings and other body modifications.

The appeal is to help establish an image database of body modifications as part of an INTERPOL project which may aid in the identification of missing persons and unidentified bodies.

Researchers at the internationally renowned Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID), led by Professor Sue Black, say such a database could offer a vital new tool to forensics experts.

All images will be treated with strict confidentiality.

“What we are trying to do is create a classification system of body modifications which may aid in describing in the wide variety of modifications seen,” said Professor Black.

“This will help us to establish how common certain body mods – tattoo designs, piercings etc – are in different populations. Perhaps national or regional 'signature' tattoos may be found, e.g. a frequently seen design specific to Scots or even Dundee, for example. If we can do that then identifying such body mods can become a key part in important work such as Disaster Victim Identitication.

“If you look at major incidents such as the Asian tsunami where there are thousands of bodies needing to be identified, investigators are working to narrow down the parameters which can lead to successful identification. This includes race, distinctive marks on the body, what clothing and jewellery may be on the body, and so on.

“If we can add body modifications to that list of parameters that allow us to successfully complete this hugely important process of identification then we will have added another major tool to the investigative process.

“Tattoos and piercings are common all over the world so we want as many people as possible to send us images of their own body modifications.”

A website has been set up at where people can find out more information about the project and send in images of their own tattoos, piercings and other bodymods.

The research is part of CAHID’s wider participation in INTERPOL’S FAST and efficient international disaster victim IDentification (FASTID) project.

CAHID runs a major international training programme in Disaster Victim Identification, which has trained police offers in practical techniques in human identification, enabling them to be deployed to help identify victims of mass fatalities anywhere in the world.

Professor Black is Director of the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University. CAHID is an internationally-leading centre in the fields of human identification, forensic anthropology, cranio-facial reconstruction and the study of the human body.

Professor Black and other members of the CAHID team featured in the major BBC2 series `History Cold Case’. The CAHID team have developed groundbreaking techniques in areas such as hand identification, which has directly led to the successful prosecution of a number of paedophiles identified from images of their hands found in obscene photographs and films.

The University of Dundee has launched the `Million For A Morgue’ campaign to support a new morgue which will allow Professor Sue Black and colleagues in the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID) to adopt the revolutionary Thiel method of embalming.

The University has already committed £1 million to the project but another £1million needs to be raised.

For more on the Million For A Morgue campaign see: