Anthropol Anz. 2023 Oct 18. doi: 10.1127/anthranz/2023/1737. Online ahead of print.
Diagnosis of specific infectious diseases in the skeleton is often difficult and relies on expert opinion. Statistics is not often used as a tool to assist in such diagnoses, and therefore this study aimed at employing data mining and machine learning in the form of decision tree analysis to aid in recognizing tuberculosis (TB) in skeletal remains and find patterns of skeletal involvement. The sample included 387 modern South African individuals (n = 207 individuals known to have died of TB and n = 180 as a control group) which were scored for the presence or absence of 21 skeletal lesions documented to be associated with TB. A pruned decision tree classification analysis was done to detect significant patterns and associations between variables which produced a model with a moderate classification rate based on four of the variables. As expected, vertebral changes were selected first, followed by rib, acetabular and lastly cranial changes. As a proof of concept, it was shown that machine learning was able to identify patterns of changes in TB skeletons versus a control group. However, further investigation into the use of machine learning in assessing skeletal changes associated with specific diseases is needed.