The Forensic Antropologist

In this hypothetical case, after several months, a search failed to locate a missing person matching this description. Therefore, the medical examiner and the detectives returned to the forensic anthropologist to request that a facial reproduction be attempted.

Two approaches are available to an anthropologist in reconstructing facial appearance during life. First, the anthropologist could work with a composite artist experienced in rendering sketches based on information supplied by eyewitnesses. Or, the anthropologist could call in a specialist in three-dimensional facial reproduction, a technique in which the head is constructed in clay directly over the skull and mandible or over good casts of them. Because of limited funds, and because an experienced composite artist is available on staff, the forensic anthropologist and artist worked together to produce a drawing of the person represented by the skeletal remains. This drawing was then made available to the public via the local media.

Shortly thereafter, two unrelated men who had seen the image on television came forward because they thought that it might be a relative. Medical and dental records for both individuals could not be located, but facial photographs taken within the last 2 years were available.

Using new techniques of photographic superimposition and comparison, the forensic anthropologist excluded one of the individuals outright. However, frontal photoimages of the second individual taken 3 years before death showed the individual was treated for facial injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident. The configuration of the frontal sinuses on the photoimages matched exactly the photoimages of the recovered skull, thereby positively identifying the victim.

Value Of Forensic Anthropology

A forensic anthropologist makes significant contributions to an investigation. The greatest of these could well be the anthropologist’s intensive training and experience in distinguishing between human and nonhuman remains, determining age at death, racial affiliation, sex, stature, elapsed time since death, skeletal trauma, post-mortem damage and alteration of the skeleton, and establishing positive identification based on skeletal and dental evidence. Such information can be obtained from complete bodies or those partially destroyed by burning, air crashes, intentional mutilation and dismemberment, explosions, or other mass disasters. In fact, a forensic anthropologist is now an integral member of most mass disaster teams.

Through their anthropological training, most forensic anthropologists have knowledge of excavation techniques and mapping that are invaluable in recovering evidence. Consequently, the forensic anthropologist should participate in the investigation of the crime scene and, especially, in the recovery of human skeletal remains.


Many forensic anthropologists offer their services to law enforcement agencies, coroners, and medical examiners. However, if a law enforcement agency does not have access to a forensic anthropologist, experienced experts can be found in many of the larger universities, in anthropology museums throughout the United States, and in some medical examiner’s offices. It should be noted, however, that not all physical anthropologists are qualified to practice forensic anthropology. A list of board certified forensic anthropologists can be obtained from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Forensic anthropologists have much to contribute to law enforcement and would welcome the opportunity to assist in the successful resolution of an investigation.

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