Forensic Anthropology

Anthropology, which is essentially the study of people,

has four main disciplines, which are:

Archaeology, Cultural, Linguistic, and Physical (Biological) . 

Although each type may have a useful application in an investigation or trial, “Forensic anthropology is the application of the science of physical anthropology to the legal process.” (American Board of Forensic Anthropology,


Forensic Archaeology

is the study of human history through the recovery and analysis of artifacts or materials left behind.  

Through the use of various excavation, recovery, and restoration procedures, fragile artifacts, which can be easily damaged or destroyed, are recovered.


However, it is essential for detailed procedures and techniques -- many of which may be adapted to best practices for crime scene processing -- to be utilized at the same time.  

Application of Forensic Anthropology

In forensic investigation cases where excavation and recovery are needed, Archaeological procedures and techniques are utilized, if bones are present, the focus turns to physical/biological anthropology, and answering two main questions:

1. Is it Human?

Human skeletal remains can be challenging to identify for a variety of reasons. To begin an adult skeleton has 206 bones, and if the skeleton is that of a child, there may be more depending the age of the child.

In addition, there are natural variations among the human population based upon biological factors, such as: biological sex, age, ethnicity, etc., as well as lifestyle factors such, as: environment, diet, activity, cultural practices, etc.

2. If the bones are human, the next question is what biographical or other information can be gleaned from the bones?

There are a number of areas such as the skull, pelvis, ribs, etc.  That can provide insights in the biographical information for a skeleton. As well as there may be other unnatural abnormalities (e.g. cracks or breaks), which can be used to determine trauma which occurred to the body. For this trauma, a key aspect is determining if they occurred before death (ante-mortem), at or near the time of death (peri-mortem), or after the death had occurred (post-mortem)