Forensic anthropology is concernedprimarily with the identification andexamination of human skeletal remains.Bones are remarkably durable and undergoand extremely slow breakdown processthat lasts decades or centuries. Because oftheir resistance to rapid decomposition,skeletal remains can provide a multitude ofindividual characteristics. An examinationof bones may reveal their sex, approximateage, race, height, and physical injury.
Recovering and Processing Remains: Thorough documentation is requiredthroughout the processes of recovery andexamination of human remains. The siteswhere human remains are found must betreated as a crime scene. These sites areusually located by civilians who thencontact law enforcement personnel. Thescene should be secured as soon aspossible to prevent any further alteration ofthe scene.
The scene should then besearched to locate all bones ifthey are scattered or otheraspects of evidence such asfootwear impressions ordiscarded items. Some tools canbe useful in the search forevidence at a “tomb”site, including aerialphotgraphy, metaldetectors, ground-penetratingradar, infraredphotography, apparatuses thatdetect the gases produced bybiological decomposition , andso-called cadaver dogs thatdetect the odors caused bybiological decomposition ofhuman remains.
All items that are found must betagged, photographed, sketched,and documented in notes. Onceall bones and other evidence arefound, a scene sketch should bemade to show the exact locationof each item (preferably usingGlobal Positioning System [GPS]coordinates) and the spatialrelationship of all evidence. Oncethe skeletal remains have beenrecovered, they can be examinedto deduce information about theidentity of the decedent.
The gender of thedecedent can bedetermined by the sizeand shape of variousskeletalfeatures, especiallythose in the pelvis andskull or cranium. Lookat the differencesbetween the male andfemale pelvic structure.Male PelvisNotice that the male pelvis ishigher and narrower than thefemale pelvis.Female PelvisNotice that the female pelvis isshorter and wider than the malepelvis, also note that the sacrumis shorter, allowing for childbirth.
In general, male craniumsare larger in overall sizethan those of females.› Overall Size› Brow bone› Mastoid Process› Forehead
Female MaleCranium Medium to large in size Large in SizeForehead High in height, vaulted,roundedLow in height, slopedbackwardBrow Bone Diminished PronouncedMastoid Process Diminished or absent PronouncedMandible Angle Obtuse Approximately rightPelvis opening Wide, circular Narrow, noncircularSacrum Short, wide, turned outward Approximately equalwidth/length, turned inwardSubpubic Angle Approximately right Acute (<90 degrees)Femur Narrow, angled inward frompelvusThick, relatively straight frompelvisOverall Skeleton Slender RobustSummary of Skeletal Features by Gender
The method for determiningthe age of the decedentvaries depending on thevictim’s growth stage.
A child’s cranium may also beidentified by the smaller size andthe presence of the developingteeth. In infant and childskeletons, formation of teethcan be used in agedetermination.
Although the categorization of “race”has come under scrutiny and is hard todefine, forensic anthropologists usebroad classes to characterize the like(but not definite) ancestry of skeletalremains. The possible racial ancestry ofthe decedent can be assessed by theappearance of various cranial featureson the skeletal remains.
The height of the victim when alive canbe estimated by measuring the longbones of the skeleton, especially in thelower limbs. Even partial bones can yielduseful results.Note: allmeasurementsin centimetersCaucasoid Negroid Unknown AncestryFemale Height = femur length x 2.47 + 54.10 Height = femur length x 2.28 + 59.76 Height = femur length x 3.01 + 32.52Height = humerus length x 3.36 + 57.97 Height = humerus length x 3.08 + 64.67 Height = humerus length x 4.62 + 19.00Male Height = femur length x 2.32 + 78.10 Height = femur length x 2.10 + 72.22 Height = femur length x 2.71 + 45.86Height = humerus length x 2.89 + 78.10 Height = humerus lengthx 2.88 + 75.48 Height = humerus length x 2.88 + 75.48
A forensic anthropologist may also createfacial reconstructions to help identifyskeletal remains.Michigan State Trooper Sarah Krebs