Forensic Anthropology Theme: A forensic anthropologist examines the skeletal remains which makes significant contributions to an investigation. Forensic anthropology is the application of the science of physical anthropology to the legal process. The identification of skeletal, badly decomposed, or otherwise unidentified human remains is important for both legal and humanitarian reasons. Forensic anthropologists apply standard scientific techniques developed in physical anthropology to identify human remains, and to assist in the detection of crime. The science of forensic anthropology includes archaeological excavation; examination of hair, insects, plant materials and footprints; determination of elapsed time since death; facial reproduction; photographic superimposition; detection of anatomical variants; and analysis of past injury and medical treatment. Forensic anthropologists work to suggest the age, sex, ancestry, stature, and unique features of a decedent from the skeleton. For example, when a skeleton found in a wooded area is brought to a morgue or an anthropologist’s laboratory for examination, the first step is to determine whether the remains are human, animal, or inorganic material. If human, an anthropologist then attempts to estimate age at death, racial affiliation, sex, and stature of the decedent. Although the primary task of anthropologists is to establish the identity of a decedent, increasingly they provide expert opinion on the type and size of weapons used and the number of blows sustained by victims of violent crime. It should be noted, however, that forensic pathologists or related experts in forensic medicine determine the cause or manner of death, not the forensic anthropologist. Most anthropologists have advanced degrees in anthropology and have examined hundreds of remains. They are also thoroughly familiar with human anatomy and how it varies in different populations. Some anthropologists may also have experience in police science or medicine, as well as in serology, toxicology, firearms and tool marks identification, crime scene investigation, handling of evidence, and photography. A limited number of anthropologists deal with footprint analysis and species identification of carrion insects in relation to estimating time elapsed since death. A forensic anthropologist makes significant contributions to an investigation. The greatest of these could well be the anthropologist’s intensive training and experience in distinguishing between human and nonhuman remains, determining age at death, racial affiliation, sex, stature, elapsed time since death, skeletal trauma, post-mortem damage and alteration of the skeleton, and establishing positive identification based on skeletal and dental evidence. Such information can be obtained from complete bodies or those partially destroyed by burning, air crashes, intentional mutilation and dismemberment, explosions, or other mass disasters. In fact, a forensic anthropologist is now an integral member of most mass disaster teams.
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