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anthropologist human skeletal bones

Forensic anthropology is the application of the scientific study of the human skeleton within the context of medical and legal problems, usually in cases involving personal identification and evidence of foul play. Accountability of the dead involves a legal procedure in the United States that requires investigations by the police, a medical examiner (M.D.) who may perform an autopsy, a coroner who provides the death certificate, and in cases with skeletal remains a forensic anthropologist (usually a biological anthropologist holding a Ph.D. degree).

Training in archaeological field techniques (forensic archaeology) allows the forensic anthropologist to understand better the nature of the environmental context of a buried skeleton, and by visiting the burial deposit he/she will ensure that all bones and teeth are collected. Methods of the forensic anthropologist may be used in studies of the “eminent dead”when there is uncertainty about the true identity of an interred individual and the name on the grave marker, and when information is sought about the manner of death of known deceased persons whose bodies may be exhumed. With archaeologically recovered remains, the forensic goals are also problem oriented. Discoveries of prehistoric skeletons are not considered forensic cases, although some of the same descriptive procedures used in the study of decomposed bodies and skeletal remains reveal aspects of the lifeways of extinct populations that could not be deduced from artifacts, cemeteries, or other aspects of ancient cultural-behavioral patterns.


Determination of ancestral background (race) of a human skeletal or decomposed body is one essential element in the protocol of a forensic anthropologist’s laboratory examination. Other categories of investigation are the following:

  1. Are the remains human? Bones and teeth of non-human animal species and inorganic materials may be present in a burial deposit.
  2. Do the skeletal remains indicate presence of a single individual? More than one skeleton may be encountered in burials, as in cases of mass genocide, battlefield disposal of the dead, common graves for victims of epidemics, and other situations where commingling of human remains is encountered.
  3. The sex of the decedent.
  4. The individual’s age at time of death.
  5. The stature of a subject may be estimated if bones of the upper and lower extremities are present and sufficiently complete for measurement and the use of regression formulas appropriate for different human populations.
  6. Some diseases leave markers on bones and teeth. If a diagnosis is accurate, this may assist the forensic anthropologist in personal identification.
  7. Evidence of past or recent traumatic assaults to the body, such as bullet holes, infliction of blunt- or sharpforce agents and strangulation, may provide some information about the life history of the decedent.
  8. Time elapsed since death may be estimated on the basis of degree of body tissue degeneration, microenvironment, and insect activity at a burial deposit.
  9. Markers of occupational stress (MOS) are bone or dental modifications resulting from habitual activities continued over relatively long periods of time.
  10. DNA analysis is possible if there is no contamination of the tissues being tested. It may reveal degrees of genetic affinities between individuals and populations.
  11. Cultural practices, such as capping the front teeth with gold for a more sparkling smile, tooth filing, cranial deformation introduced in childhood, and foot binding, may lead to personal identification. These physical characteristics and customs for disposing of the dead may shed light on the lifeways of the deceased.
  12. The manner of death involves determination of evidence of natural causes, accidents, homicides, and suicides, although how the decedent died may be uncertain. Cause of death is determined by a medical examiner.
  13. Determination of ancestry (race).


But how does the forensic anthropologist determine ancestry? No single methodological approach provides an answer; rather, several kinds of data acquisition are required. One of these involves the examination of the form and structure of the skeleton as a whole and of each of its bony components and teeth. This is called “morphological analysis.”Examples are the configuration of the nasal aperture (is it long and narrow? short and broad?), presence or absence of “shovel-shaped”incisor teeth, straightness or projection of the lower portion of the face, heavy or small brow ridges, degree of curvature of one or more bones of the lower extremities, and literally scores of other physical features.

“Metric analysis”refers to measurement of bones and teeth with precision instruments, such as calipers, head spanners, and osteometric boards for measuring the lengths of bones of the upper and lower extremities. Since the end of the eighteenth century hundreds of different “anthropo-metric”instruments have been invented and patented with the goal of achieving very accurate size values, and today an instrument employed in dental measurements is graduated to one-tenth of a millimeter. The metric system is used in taking anthropometric measurements. From these numerical data, a ratio of length-breadth measurements is called the “index”(plural “indices”when references are made to multiple ratios). Commonly known indices include the relationship of maximum cranial length to maximum cranial breadth, the so-called “Cranial Index”(with its classifications into “dolichocrany,”or long-headedness, and “brachycrany,”or broad-headedness). Measuring instruments are set in place on standard “landmarks,”which may be anatomical points or regions of bones and teeth.

Metrical data are quantified for statistical analyses that may reveal degrees of biological relationships between modern human populations as well as between prehistoric peoples when their skeletal remains have been preserved. Today a host of multivariate statistical procedures shed light on population affinities. Metric data are added to molecular biological-genetic studies, which are also useful in estimations of the degree to which populations are genetically related. However, molecular biologists would not be able to account for age at the time of death of adult subjects, markers of trauma or MOS, and other aspects of the life history and lifeways of a skeletal subject.

Accurate determination of an individual’s ancestry from skeletal remains rests upon the analyses of the data from a forensic anthropological investigation acquired by some of the instruments listed above, comparative studies of skeletons of known ancestry, and the level of training achieved by the forensic anthropologist.


Prior to World War II in the United States, individuals practicing forensic anthropology were men with medical backgrounds and anatomists. An American anthropologist, W. M. Krogman (1939), published his “A Guide to the Identification of Human Skeletal Material”in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin in 1939. This marks a turning point in the development of the forensic sciences, as skeletal biologists were needed by U.S. military forces for identification of war dead at the end of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam conflict. The Pentagon and FBI were interested in Krogman’s description of the kinds of information that could be used for personal identification. By 1972 a new section of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), founded in 1948, was organized. Beginning with fourteen practicing forensic anthropologists, the Section of Physical Anthropology had a 2005 membership of over 275 forensic anthropologists. The latter fall into rankings of fellow, member, associate member, honorary member, trainee affiliate, and student affiliate within a total membership of over 5,152 forensic science experts. The AAFS official organ of publication is the Journal of Forensic Sciences to which forensic anthropologists and other members of the association’s ten sections may submit research articles for publication. These other sections include Criminalistics, Engineering Sciences, General, Jurisprudence, Odontology, Pathology-Biology, Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Questioned Documents, and Toxicology.

Independent of the AAFS is the American Board of Forensic Anthropology (ABFA), established five years after the Physical Anthropology Section was formed. At present there are nearly seventy Diplomates. This title (Diplomate of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, or D.A.B.F.A.) is awarded to practicing forensic anthropologists who take written and practical board examinations for certification. This process offers a credential that guarantees that the title’s holders are considered by their peers to be among the finest and most experienced professionals in forensic anthropology. It is an advantageous award for establishing one’s qualifications when examined in court as an expert witness.

Forensic anthropologists conduct their research with colleagues in other disciplines. Radiologists can provide X-ray plates that can reveal the nature of a bone fracture or the age of a young individual by the state of dental eruption and the growth and development of cranial and postcranial bones. Molecular biology and DNA analyses may assist in estimating degrees of genetic relationships between individuals and the ancient populations from which their ancestry may be traced. Photography is an essential step in any case because it serves as a visual record of a decedent’s subjection to trauma and disease. Forensic odontologists cooperate with anthropologists with respect to comparisons of dental records, recognizing irregularities in enamel development and confirming data about sex and age at time of death.

The forensic sciences in general have gained great popular interest through television programs, novels in which the forensic anthropologist is the key figure, and in magazine and newspaper articles. Unfortunately, few of these media sources accurately represent the real world of any of the forensic sciences. Efficient training in its anthropological side involves an undergraduate background in the biological sciences, mathematics, and anthropology; a graduate program leading to the doctoral degree (Ph.D.) at a college or university where field and laboratory training is available (at present about a dozen institutions of higher education in the United States and Canada); personal attributes that allow for working well with others, facing the challenges of examining decomposed bodies as well as skeletal remains; commitment to assisting the M.D. or professor; and acquiring a sound background in statistics. After a few years of field and laboratory experience, the junior forensic anthropologist begins attendance at AAFS meetings and may study for certification according to the directives of the ABFA.

At present no academic departments in anthropology and the biological sciences in North America are staffed entirely by forensic anthropologists. Rather, the expert in this field is usually hired by a college or university depending upon his/her qualifications as a biological anthropologist capable of teaching courses about human palaeontology and evolution, biological variables of living human populations and genetics, nutritional anthropology, and other specialties within the broad spectrum of anthropology. However, for the applicant who is able to command these subjects and is trained in forensic anthropology, a position may open up at a research institution, college or university, or the offices of the FBI and other government agencies. Certainly all of the forensic sciences are expanding, and anthropologists with research interests in estimating the ancestry of modern and prehistoric humans will discover a vast literature on the subject and opportunities for refinement of present methods in morphology, anthropometry, human genetics, and the history of how the traditional race concept has been modified in the twentieth-first century.

Forensic anthropologists have written several books that go into detail about their cases and provide both overviews of the state of the discipline and depictions of methods for ancestry determination. These resources provide easy-to-read sources for those interested in the subject (Byers 2002; Thomas 1995; Molnar 2006; Rhine 1998; Ubelaker and Scammell 1992).

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over 5 years ago

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over 5 years ago

this stuff is boring and it just makes me wanna pee!! :PP like i really need too pee and i have my friend naomi here with me and she wants some sex lol and rodrigo has big old booty and briannas a crazy old fart and randys always horney!! XDD aaaahhhhhh this is funny hope people really read this Bwhaahaahaa t(''t) guns up too my homies XDD