forensic anthropology | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Investigations

Forensic anthropology is a subfield of anthropology that applies the principles and methods of physical anthropology to legal investigations, particularly in the analysis of human remains.

Forensic anthropology is an exciting field that bridges anthropology and law enforcement. It employs the principles of physical anthropology to tackle legal cases, mostly focusing on analyzing human remains.

Role of Forensic Anthropology

Forensic anthropologists play a crucial role in criminal investigations. Their main job is to identify human remains and determine the cause and manner of death. They can also assist in identifying individuals based on specific physical characteristics.

They become invaluable resources when law enforcement officials discover unidentified or fragmented human remains. Their expert knowledge helps to answer key questions in criminal investigations.

Techniques Employed in Forensic Anthropology

Forensic anthropologists use a range of scientific techniques to carry out their work. One of these is osteology, which is the study of bones. Bones can reveal a lot about a person, such as age, gender, height, and even certain health conditions.

Another essential area is forensic taphonomy. This involves studying how remains degrade over time. This information can provide crucial clues about how long a person has been deceased.

Forensic archaeology is another key technique. It involves the recovery and analysis of human remains from archaeological contexts. This can be especially useful when human remains are discovered at historical or archaeological sites.

Forensic anthropologists can also use methods from other scientific disciplines. For instance, they might use forensic entomology, studying insects found with human remains. The types of insects and their life stages can provide valuable information about the time of death. They may also employ forensic DNA analysis, a powerful tool for identifying remains.

Working Environments of Forensic Anthropologists

Forensic anthropologists work in a variety of settings. Some may work in medical examiners’ offices or forensic laboratories, applying their skills to current legal investigations. Others might work in universities, where they conduct research and teach the next generation of forensic anthropologists.

Additionally, some forensic anthropologists work as consultants. They might be hired by law enforcement agencies to provide their expertise on specific cases.

Expert Witnesses

Forensic anthropologists can also serve as expert witnesses in court trials. They can share their findings and interpretations, explaining complex scientific concepts in a way that non-experts can understand. This can be crucial in helping a jury understand the evidence and reach a verdict.


In summary, forensic anthropology is a fascinating field that combines anthropology with law enforcement. Forensic anthropologists use their knowledge of human bones and other physical characteristics to identify remains and help solve legal cases. Their work is invaluable in answering key questions in criminal investigations and in providing closure for families of victims.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/20/2023

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