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Forensic Anthropology
Modified from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Forensic anthropology is the application of the science of physical anthropology and human
osteology (the study of the human skeleton) in a legal setting, most often in criminal cases
where the victim's remains are more or less skeletonized. A forensic anthropologist can also
assist in the identification of deceased individuals whose remains are decomposed, burned, or
otherwise unrecognizable. The adjective "forensic" refers to the application of this subfield of
science to a court of law.
There are few people who identify themselves as forensic anthropologists, as most
practitioners are consultants who generally work full time in another capacity, as a professor in
biological anthropology or in an allied forensic or museum setting.
The Discipline
Forensic anthropology is related to physical anthropology.
Other disciplines in physical anthropology include genetics, human growth and development,
primatology (study of primates), paleoanthropology (primate and human evolution), human
osteology (study of the skeleton), paleodemography (vital statistics of past populations),
skeletal biology, nutrition, dental anthropology, and human adaptation and variation (to different
climates, altitudes, etc.), among others.
Forensic anthropology is an "applied" area. It borrows methods and techniques developed from
skeletal biology and osteology and applies them to cases of forensic importance. Forensic means
Methods and techniques to assess age, gender, stature, ancestry, and analyze trauma and
disease are generally developed to help anthropologists understand different populations living
all over the world at different times throughout history. When these methods are applied to
unknown modern human remains, with the aim of establishing identity or manner of death, this is
the forensic application of osteology. Forensic anthropologists frequently work in conjunction
with forensic pathologists, odontologists, and homicide investigators to identify a descendent
and/or discover evidence of foul play. Forensic anthropologists do not determine cause of death
of victims but their opinions may be taken into consideration by the coroner with the proper
legal authority to do so. The testimony of the anthropologist as an expert witness to the court
relies on the training and scientific expertise of the anthropologist.
A forensic anthropologist may be called in when human remains are found during an
anthropological or archaeological dig, or when badly decomposed, burned, or skeletonized
remains are found by law enforcement or members of the public. The identification of skeletal,
badly decomposed, or otherwise unidentified human remains is important for both legal and
humanitarian reasons. The anthropologist can assess characteristics of the bones to determine
the minimum number of individuals, gender, stature, age at death, time since death, ancestry
and race, health, and unique identifying characteristics such as healed breaks or surgical scars.
Sometimes the forensic anthropologist must determine whether the remains found are actually
human. Many times, positive identification can be established from such remains, but often only
an exclusionary identity can be drawn.
In physical trauma analysis, a forensic anthropologist attempts to determine whether sharp
force, blunt force, or gunshot injury occurred before death, near the time of death, or after
death. If weapon use is found, the type of weapon or tool used may be determined by examining
the marks left upon the bones.