Forensic Anthropology


To use a multi-disciplinary approach to uncover the secrets hidden in bones.


Anthropology is the scientific study of the origin, the behavior, and the physical, social, and cultural development of humans. Forensic anthropologists are trained physical anthropologists who apply their knowledge of biology, science, and culture to the legal process. They identify human remains, along with pathologists, homicide detectives and other specialists. In the case of the History Detectives, a forensic anthropologist's skill is used to give an identity and/or a cause of death to skeletal remains.

The field of forensic anthropology is relatively new. Although there were famous grisly murders of the 19th century solved through examination of bones and body fragments, it wasn't until the 1930s that the relationship between anthropology and the police was formally acknowledged. The gangland murders of the 1930s forced the FBI to turn to physical anthropologists.

War and Pieces

World War II and the Korean War further helped develop a database of information that became the basis of identification that is used by anthropologists today. It all started with the task of identifying dead soldiers.

As all soldiers had thorough health records taken before they were shipped off to war — records that included age, height, illness history and dental records — researchers were able to discover the names of soldiers, and develop a database of bone and skull statistics.

The Skeleton in Your Closet

Bones offer amazing clues to the trained eye. A trained forensic anthropologist, using techniques favored by archeologists, can identify gender, ethnicity, age, illness, pregnancies and even possible careers.

Craniosacral measurements (skull measurements) have been established for all ages and race groups, which allow forensic anthropologists to establish a better picture of the deceased. The skull features unique racial identifiers such as the length of jaw and the distance between eye sockets.

The bones also hold clues to what work the person did. Bony ridges form where the muscles attach and have pulled over the years. A forensic anthropologist might find a bony ridge on the wrist and decide the decedent may have been someone who used their hands for a living, such as a chef or seamstress.

Related Content