what is forensic anthropology?


Symphysis pubis (Richard Jones 2015)


Forensic anthropology is a sub-specialty of physical anthropology, and is concerned with the application of expert knowledge about skeletal anatomy to issues of forensic importance, including the identification of the deceased (where the remains are completely, or partially, skeletonised), and the identification and interpretation of bone trauma.

Principles derived from studying skeletal anatomy of archeological specimens and 'collections' of skeletons are applied to the examination of bones found in a forensic context (e.g. clandestine burial), with a view to providing information relevant to the identification of the deceased, including estimations of;

  • ancestry,
  • age at death,
  • sex, and
  • stature.

Forensic anthropologists can play an integral role in death investigations, and can assist in the identification of remains at the scene, recovery of those remains (utilising archeological principles), and examination in the mortuary, alongside the forensic pathologist.


Source: Wikipedia

what is forensic anthropology? (FutureLearn - Dundee University)


human identification (the Wellcome Collection)


identifying burial sites - forensic science field techniques video



how are human remains exposed and uncovered by forensic anthropologists & archeologists? (FutureLearn - Dundee University)


revise your pelvic bone anatomy



the Body Farm and art


Untitled WR Pa 53 2001

Source: Sally Mann at the Guardian


Photographer Sally Mann created a series of photographs called 'What Remains', taken at the University of Tennessee's Knoxville Anthropological Research Facility (aka 'the Body Farm). These photographs have been described as some of her most challenging pieces ('I like pushing buttons').

Death makes us sad, but it can also make us feel more alive... I couldn't wait to get there. The smell didn't bother me. And you could see the colours - they're really beautiful. As Wallace Stevens says, death is the mother of beauty.

Sally Mann in The Guardian (Morrison B. The naked and the Dead. The Guardian 29/5/2010)

The entrance to the 'Body Farm'

Source: Jefferson Bass


Skeletalisation at the Body Farm

Source: Jefferson Bass


Skeletalisation with exposure of a prosthetic hip at the Bosy Farm

Source: Jefferson Bass


human bone manual


the juvenile skeleton



skull from a 'torso murders' victim, Cleveland, Ohio, USA (1935-1938)

source: the Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Special Collections

forensic facial reconstruction


Mikhail Gerasimov - source: Wikipedia


When other identification means have been exhausted, forensic anthropology meets forensic art to provide a skull with a recognisable face.

Forensic facial reconstruction has been utilised for many decades, with some notable success. The pioneer of this forensic technique was Mikhail Gerasimov (1907-1970), who provided the role model for Professor Andreev in Martin Cruz Smith's novel, Gorky Park.



comparative anatomy relevant to the examination of found remains




written in bone - interactive comic story

The secret in the cellar - a Written in Bone forensic anthropology mystery via the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

new avenues for forensic anthropology? 'odor mortis' and the Casey Anthony trial


There is something wrong. I found my daughter's car today and it smells like there's been a dead body in the damn car.

Cindy Anthony, July 15th 2008

On July 15th 2008, Caylee Anthony, a two-year old girl, was reported missing by her maternal grandmother, who told emergency services that her daughter's car smelled like there had been a dead body in it. That smell, it was subsequently discovered, was emanating from the boot (trunk), where there was some rubbish (garbage).

Caylee's skeletalised remains were discovered on December 19th 2008 in a wooded area close to the family home.

At the trial of Caylee's mother, Casey Anthony, it was argued that the smell of decomposition in the boot of the car had come from Caylee's body being transported in it, and the prosecution called Dr Arpad Vass - a forensic scientist with a special interest in the process of decomposition - to give evidence about his analysis of the 'odour' of decomposition present in that car. This evidence was controversial, and disputed by the defence.

Casey Anthony was found 'not guilty' of Caylee's murder.

Watch Dr Vass give evidence and read his paper on 'Odor Mortis'. The questions that remain are: should his evidence have been permitted at trial? Is this an avenue of exploration that will be verifiable in the future? Is it reliable? Was this evidence 'flawed', as some critics maintain?

For more information about this case, follow the links curated at  https://delicious.com/rmjones/search/casey_anthony


forensic anthropology: graphic novel-style

radiographic bone age


Age can be assessed by reference to bone age - this is a radiograph of the left hand of a male with a bone age of 24 months.

For more examples of bone age, and a full size version of this radiograph, go to wikiradiography (made available by Wetpaint).

frontal sinus pattern - identification




Some researchers have considered the frontal sinus to be characteristic, and capable of providing evidence of 'uniqueness'/ individualisation. The top radiograph shows the frontal sinus in relation to the remainder of the facial bones/ skull, whilst the lower image is a close-up of the frontal sinus.

Source: wikiradiology (Wetpaint)

See the frontal sinus pattern visible in a skull x-ray reportedly of Hitler at Wired Science.

Unearthing the truth

A conversation with Dr Clyde Snow (BBC Worldwide)

crosswords and other puzzles



The human bone manual, White TD and Folkens PE

Buy it here



Death's Acre: Inside the Body Farm. Bass B, Jefferson J

Buy this book here ...


Forensic anthropology - 2000 to 2010. Black S, Ferguson E (ed). CRC Press (Taylor and Francis) 2011

Buy it here ...

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