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Forensic anthropology

From Academic Kids

Forensic anthropology is a term meaning the application of the science of physical anthropology and human osteology in a legal setting most often in criminal cases where the victims remains are more or less skeletonized. A forensic anthropologist can also assist in the identification of deceased individuals whose remains are decomposed, burned, mutilated 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 may call themselves 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.

Forensic anthropologists do not determine cause of death of victims but their opinions may be taken into consideration by the person with the proper legal authority to do so. This person is usually a medical examiner (forensic pathologist) or coroner depending on the jurisdiction. Their interpretation of evidence can help a coroner decide manner of death, such as homicide, suicide, accident, natural causes or may simply remain undetermined due to lack of medical or physical evidence. The testimony of the anthropologist as an expert witness to the court relies on the training and scientific expertise of the anthropologist.

When human remains are found during anthropological or archaeological excavation, and when badly decomposed, burned, or skeletonized remains are found, a forensic anthropologist is needed. Metric and nonmetric traits are used to evaluate such characteristics of the bones as the minimum number of individuals, sex, stature, age at death, time since death, ancestry and race, health, unique identifying characteristics, and trauma. 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 trauma analysis, a forensic anthropologist attempts to determine whether sharp, force blunt force, or gunshot injury occurred before (antemortem), near the time of (perimortem), or after (postmortem) the death of the individual. If weapon use is found, the type of weapon or tool used may be determined by examining the marks left upon the bones. Even cremated remains can provide a surprising amount of information about the deceased individual.

Forensic anthropology in the United States

Forensic anthropology is one of the divisions of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

Two of the most important research collections of human skeletal remains are the Hamann-Todd Collection, now housed in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Terry Collection, now housed in the Smithsonian Institution. These collections are an important historic basis for the statistical analysis necessary to make estimates and predictions from found remains. More modern collections include the Anthropological Research Facility and the William M. Bass Donated Skeletal Collection at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

Forensic anthropologists of note

See also:: Forensics, Forensic odontology, Human skeleton, Expert witness

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