Definitions

Forensic anthropology represents the application of our knowledge and techniques of physical anthropology to medico-legal problems. Historically, such applications have focused on skeletal remains, although issues involving soft tissue are at times included. With skeletal remains forensic anthropologists are asked to offer opinions if the evidence represents human, non-human animals, or other materials. If the remains are thought to be human, then analysis is directed toward such problems as determining the age at death, sex, ancestry, living stature, postmortem interval (time since death), anatomical parts represented, the presence of disease or injury and if so, any treatment of the conditions, any unusual features that might facilitate identification, any evidence of injury that might have contributed to death and postmortem change (Iscan & Kennedy, 1989; Krogman &Iscan, 1986; Maples and Browning, 1994; Rathbun & Buikstra, 1984; Reichs, 1998; Rhine, 1998; Stewart, 1970, 1979; Ubelaker, 1999a; Ubelaker & Scammell, 1992). Evidence of postmortem change is important because it can (1) contribute to the estimation of the time since death, (2) provide important environmental information to help determine the postmortem history of the remains, and (3) assist with perimortem (at or about the time of death) trauma interpretation (Haglund & Sorg, 2002).

Forensic anthropologists usually work closely with forensic pathologists and other specialists in forensic science in a team approach. Forensic anthropologists become involved in such work because of their unique experience and training in human skeletal biology, human variation, growth and development, and other anthropological areas of speciality. Although they usually work with human remains that have been altered through advanced decomposition or other factors, at times they also assist medical specialists in the autopsy of relatively complete remains in cases when anthropological expertise is needed.

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