Forensic Anthropology & Archaeology

Forensic Anthropolgy

Forensic anthropology is a sub-discipline of physical anthropology and is primarily concerned with the analysis and identification of human remains within an investigative and medico-legal framework. The majority of the casework handled by forensic anthropologists in the United Kingdom are those involving unidentified or missing persons, but can also include the identification of victims from mass fatality incidents and, internationally, human rights violations, war crimes and genocide.

The scientific techniques developed from physical anthropology, when applied to unidentified, decomposed, burned, commingled or fragmented human remains, help to establish a biological profile of the individual. The profile that is subsequently generated from these analyses provides information to investigators on the ancestry, sex, age, stature, and any other unique or individualising features of the remains that may ultimately assist in a positive identification.

In addition, forensic anthropologists will interpret – or assist the forensic pathologist in the interpretation of – : the time since death (post-mortem interval); ante- (before death), peri- (on or around the time of death) and post-mortem (after death) trauma; and the various taphonomic processes (i.e. decomposition, burial, climate, temperature, soil conditions, insect, animal and plant activity, body dispersal patterns, etc.) which may have had an effect upon the body from the time of death to the time of recovery.

Forensic Archaeology

Forensic archaeology applies the techniques, principles and methodologies of the discipline of archaeology to medico-legal investigations. Forensic archaeologists are most often utilised by various police forces in the United Kingdom in the search, location and recovery of unidentified or missing persons and any associated physical evidence that may be present. They have also played an increasingly important role on the international stage with their participation in the investigation and excavation of mass graves of victims of human rights violations, war crimes and genocide conducted on behalf of ad hoc tribunals and non-governmental organisations, such as the United Nations.

Early inclusion and integration of the forensic archaeologist into a crime scene investigation can greatly contribute to the search and location process due to their ability to read the landscape and rapidly identify areas of interest or, conversely, areas which do not require further investigation. In cases where human remains are present, the careful excavation and recording routinely undertaken by a forensic archaeologist can maximise the collection of evidence, of environmental samples, and also assist in the interpretation of the disposal and/or deposition processes associated with the body. Similar to the forensic anthropologist, the forensic archaeologist also notes any taphonomic processes that may have had an influence upon both the body and any associated or surviving physical evidence, in order that an accurate interpretation of the human remains, the scene and its context can be better understood.


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