Recent years have witnessed accelerated research in forensic anthropology resulting in many new techniques to support all areas of analysis. These are too numerous and complex to be discussed in detail here, but the following represent a few highlights.
Recovery efforts continue to rely primarily on careful archeological-type techniques with extensive documentation. These efforts are supported by the use of aerial photography, surface topography study, ground penetrating radar, cadaver dogs (dogs trained to detect the odor of decomposing human tissue), and other technological advances.
The differentiation of human tissue from other materials continues to rely extensively upon macroscopic morphological indicators, but in fragmentary and other difficult cases these techniques can be supplemented with microscopic histological examination and/or elemental analysis using a scanning electron microscope (SEM) with associated energy dispersive spectrometer (EDS). SEM/EDS analysis allows bones and teeth to be distinguished from most other materials. Microscopic analysis of histological structure (Mulhern & Ubelaker, 2001) allows human bone to be distinguished from some other animals.
New techniques in the estimation of age at death, sex, and stature have become available for more parts of the skeleton and with a greater appreciation for the population variation involved.
In 1984, the physical anthropology section of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences initiated a data bank managed at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. This data bank maintains measurements and observations on identified forensic cases and documented museum collections which has been used to generate new methodology for analysis. Since these data were largely derived from forensic cases, they are of obvious utility in developing new methods to use in individual cases. New methodology stemming from this effort includes the computer program FORDISC 2.0 (Ousley & Jantz,
1996), a flexible interactive system which enables available measurements from a forensic case to be used to generate estimates of sex, ancestry, and stature.
Interpretations of time since death, trauma, and postmortem indicators (usually referred to as taphonomy in the forensic literature) have been augmented by several recent volumes on these subjects which document the complexity of the issues involved.
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