What is Forensic Anthropology?

Forensic Anthropology is the application of standard techniques and practices developed in Biological Anthropology to the legal context.

Forensic Anthropologists use their knowledge of osteology (bones) to help identify human remains (usually skeletons or decomposed bodies) found in suspicious circumstances, when the identity of the remains is unknown.

By examining the bones and the teeth in great detail, a Forensic Anthropologist can help police and other investigators by building an 'osteological profile' that can be used to narrow down the list of possible identities for the unknown remains.

An osteological profile includes information about the remains such as:

Is the person male or female?
How old was the person when he or she died?
How tall was the person?
Where did the person come from?
Did the person suffer from any diseases that affect the skeleton?
How did the person die?
How long ago did the person die?

Forensic Anthropologists are involved in identifying unknown remains in many different situations - victims of homicide, suicide, disaster or accident. Remains can be decomposed or damaged through submersion in water, or exposure to fire or animal scavengers for example, and can be badly compromised. Luckily, teeth are quite resistant to damage and are often when the rest of the body is badly damaged. Because of this, they are invaluable sources of information about a person's identity.