Anthropology is the study of the behavior, origin, and physical and social development of humans. The term forensic refers to the gathering of scientific physical evidence for use in a court of law. Thus, forensic anthropology is the use of anthropology to gather and examine scientific evidence. Forensic anthropologists use a blend of sciences, such as biology, chemistry, physics, and anatomy to aid in the investigation of crimes.
One of the primary roles of a forensic anthropologist at a crime scene is to identify human remains. A forensic anthropologist uses scientific methods and technologies to answer key questions about the crime such as: how many victims are present? Who are they? When did they die? How did they die? Most of
The skull provides the most information for physical anthropologists. Craniosacral, or skull measurements (especially between the eye sockets and the jaw bone,) often help forensic anthropologists determine the race, age, and sex of a body. Forensic anthropologists can sometimes recreate the likeness of a person from skeletal measurements. Teeth can be compared to dental records as a means of identification. Holes, fissures, stains, and other abnormalities indicate trauma and may help to determine cause of death.
Forensic anthropologists also look at the size and shape of the pelvis, as well as signs of wear in the hip joint, to help determine the age and sex of remains. They can tell whether a broken bone happened before, during, or after death. Evidence of bones that were broken during childhood and later healed may help identify an adult body.
Forensic anthropologists may even be able to determine what kind of career a victim may have had by examining skeletal remains. Ridges that form where muscle tissue attaches to bone indicate that a person's job required physical labor. Ridges may also indicate if a person was right or left handed. Looking at microscopic lines in bone fragments yields clues about the overall health of person before death.
Often, physical anthropologists must work with badly decomposed, charred, or damaged remains instead of well-preserved, whole skeletons. When working with fragments, forensic anthropologists employ technologies such as CAT scans and x rays. They may attempt to gather DNA evidence to identify remains.
Forensic anthropology is not only used to investigate present-day crimes, but is also applied to examine historical events. For example, forensic anthropologists have played a significant role in identifying the remains of wartime military personnel, even decades after the event. This type of forensic anthropology is sometimes referred to as forensic archaeology.
SEE ALSO Ancient cases and mysteries; Anthropometry; Archaeology; Careers in forensic science; DNA mixtures, forensic interpretation of mass graves; Identification of war victims in Croatia and Bosnia; War forensics.
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