Forensic Anthropology

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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, mutilated or otherwise unrecognizable. The adjective "forensic" refers to the application of this subfield of science to a court of law.




Western Australia



Forensic anthropologists can help identify skeletonized human remains, such as these found lying in scrub in Western Australia, circa 1900-1910.



Forensic anthropologists can help identify skeletonized human remains, such as these found lying in scrub in Western Australia, circa 1900-1910.



Forensic anthropology borrows methods developed from the academic discipline of physical anthropology and applies them to cases of forensic importance. These techniques can be used to assess age, sex, stature, ancestry, and analyze trauma and disease. Forensic anthropologists frequently work in conjunction with forensic pathologists, odontologists, and homicide investigators to identify a decedent, discover evidence of trauma, and determine the postmortem interval. Though they typically lack the legal authority to declare the official cause of death, their opinions may be taken into consideration by the medical examiner. They may also testify in court as expert witness, though data from some of the techniques commonly used in the field—such as forensic facial reconstruction—are inadmissible as forensic evidence.


In the United States


Physical anthropology is one of the divisions of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Two of the most important research collections of human skeletal remains in the U.S. 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 William M. Bass Donated Skeletal Collection at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.




There are few people who identify themselves as forensic anthropologists, and in the United States and Canada, there are fewer than 100 Anthropologists certified as Diplomates of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology (DABFA).  Most diplomates work in the academic field and consult on casework as it arises.


Notable forensic anthropologists

·        Thomas Dwight (1843 - 1919)

·        Ales Hrdlicka (1869 - 1943)

·        Earnest Hooton (1887 - 1954)

·        Mildred Trotter (1899 - 1991)

·        T. Dale Stewart (1901 - 1997)

·        Wilton M. Krogman (1903 - 1987)

·        Ellis R. Kerley (1924 - 1998)

·        J. Lawrence Angel (1915 - 1988)

·        Sara C. Bisel (1932 - 1996)

·        William R. Maples (1937 - 1997)

·        Sheilagh T. Brooks ( - 2008)

·        William M. Bass (University of Tennessee, Emeritus) DABFA

·        Hugh E. Berryman (Middle Tennessee State University)DABFA

·        Sue Black (University of Dundee, UK)

·        Jane E. Buikstra (Arizona State University) DABFA

·        Karen Ramey Burns (University of Georgia)

·        Emily Craig (author, State Forensic Anthropologist for Kentucky) DABFA

·        Dennis C. Dirkmaat (Mercyhurst College) DABFA

·        Anthony B. Falsetti (University of Florida) DABFA

·        Scott Fairgrieve (Laurentian University, Canada)

·        Michael Finnegan (Kansas State University) DABFA

·        Diane L. France (Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, University of Bradford, UK) DABFA

·        William Haglund (Physicians for Human Rights)

·        Lee Meadows Jantz (University of Tennessee)

·        Richard L. Jantz (University of Tennessee, Fordisc)

·        Clea Koff (genocide investigator for International Criminal Tribunals)

·        Jerry Melbye (Texas State University, San Marcos) DABFA

·        Susan T. Myster (Hamline University) DABFA

·        Turhon A. Murad (California State University, Chico) DABFA

·        Surinder Nath (University of Delhi, India)

·        Stephen Ousley (Mercyhurst College, Fordisc)

·        Douglas Owsley (National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution)

·        Fredy Peccerelli (Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation)

·        Kathy Reichs (author, University of North Carolina at Charlotte) DABFA

·        William C. Rodriguez (Armed Forces Institute of Pathology) DABFA

·        Clyde Snow (Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team) DABFA

·        Marcella Sorg (University of Maine) DABFA

·        Sam D. Stout (Ohio State University) DABFA

·        Judy M. Suchey (Los Angeles Coroner's Office) DABFA

·        Steven Symes (Mercyhurst College) DABFA

·        Douglas H. Ubelaker (Smithsonian Institution, George Washington University)DABFA

·        Daniel J. Wescott (University of Missouri)

·        Walter B. Wood (University of Queensland, Australia)

·        Kewal Krishan (Panjab University, India)


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Forensic Anthropology



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