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The application of anthropology as a science with its subfields that include forensic taphonomy and forensic archeology constitutes Forensic anthropology. Forensics basically is gathering evidence or facts for an investigation, while anthropology is the study of humans (human cultures, languages, occupation, teeth, and bones). This simply means that this field of forensic anthropology involves the study of the remains of the human skeletons to help law enforcement agencies solve the mysteries of identifying unidentified bones. The person who deals with this kind of work is referred to as a forensic anthropologist.
This work involves the construction of a biological outline or profile of the person whose bone is being investigated. From the investigation, the forensic anthropologist will seek to determine the age, sex, ancestry and stature of the person. Furthermore, they will also try to determine various characteristics of the person, such as the injury that led to their death or the disease that caused their death (Sauer, 1998).
All this cannot be achieved by mere speculation but a thorough examination of the bone. To begin with, the anthropologist will have to check and determine that the material he/she has been actually a bone. This is because there are a number of materials that can ignorantly be mistaken for a bone at a first glance, particularly if they were covered by other substances or dirt. Examples include glass, rocks, plastic, ceramic shards, and probably small bits of concrete.
After this is done, the remaining part will be to profile the individual. The first step is identifying the sex of the person. This is basically to determine the properties that differentiate a person on the basis of their reproductive roles. The best way to do this is to check the genes, musculature, body hair and other sexual characteristics (Hawks, 2011). Personal effects and other cultural materials may suggest the gender of the person, but generally, the skull of females tend to be smaller than that of males. Also, the pelvic bones will come in handy as the structure will be different since females are created to give birth. With all these, still the anthropologist has to be careful as there are large overlaps between females and males.
The next step is to determine the age of the individual. This entirely depends on the growth and developmental changes of the person. When a person is born, the bones are mainly soft cartilage that is replaced with hard bones at different stages of life. Teeth can also be used to estimate the age as they develop and flare with specific sequences at particular times in puerility. Thus, the investigator can use this to estimate the age in adults and children. (Spencer, 1981).
Step three is to try to identify the ancestry of the person. The analyst involved will try to search for skeletal features that are more dominant in some groups of people than others. This is however not that straight forward as it is not easy to determine the color of the eyes or skin but the ultimate goal of the analyst is to recognize the victim and identify them. This means that the best way to estimate the ancestry of the person is by analyzing, measuring and observing the bones of the skull and face.
Step four will be to check the stature of the individual. Since the limb height and length have a close relationship, the analyst will measure the leg or arm bones and use a mathematical formula that helps in accounting for the variations in ancestry and gender groups (Smith, 2010). From the formula, the analyst will be able to distinguish the victims who fall outside a given group using the height range obtained.
The most important thing, however, is determining what happened to the victim. This is done by studying the evidence regarding the circumstances that surrounds the death of the individual. Analyzing the skeletal trauma and looking for different causes of injuries is very important. In addition to this, it is also important to look at the patterns of injuries on the body (Sigler-Eisenberg, 1985).
To achieve these steps and all others that may be necessary in aiding a case, the anthropologist will have to be physically available at the site and assist in colleting of the remains. From there, he will then follow the above-mentioned steps and profile the individual.
Although the forensic anthropologist is not legally responsible for determining the causes of the death, the information they provide is very crucial in aiding the medical examiner or the coroner to make their official legal opinion on the case. Therefore, the study of forensic anthropology is an important field that can help us determine mysteries surrounding unsolved murder cases that sometimes are hard to determine and may lack enough evidence. In this regard, the anthropologist must have a high standard of ethics as they are a part of a sensitive legal system and any incorrect, misconduct or bias during an investigation may lead to a fine, sanction, or imprisonment by the authorities depending on the weight of the violation.
Smith, Ashley C. “Distinguishing Between Antemortem, Perimortem, and Postmortem Trauma”. (2010)
Hawks, John. “Determining sex from the cranium”. (2011)
Sauer, N. “The Timing of Injuries and Manner of Death: Distinguishing Among Antemortem Perimortem, and Postmortem Trauma.” Forensic Osteology Advances in the Identification of Human Remains. (1998): 321 – 332
Sigler-Eisenberg. “Forensic Research: Expanding the Concept of Applied Archaeology”. American Antiquity. (1985).
Spencer, Frank (1981). “The Rise of Academic Physical Anthropology in the United States”.American Journal of Physical Anthropology (1981).