Forensic Anthropology concerns the identification of human remains for medico-legal purposes. This begins by determining whether remains are human or non-human and are of forensic significance. Forensic anthropologists are commonly required to deal with remains that are in advanced stages of decomposition or are fully skeletonised. Analysis of remains by a forensic anthropologist can provide information on sex, age at death, stature and race of an individual. It can also establish the presence of any injury, pathology or other abnormalities that may be pertinent to identification and manner of death.
Forensic anthropologists work in wide variety of situations. They conduct casework at the request of police investigators or the forensic pathologist. In addition, forensic anthropologists work internationally on cases involving human rights violations and mass fatalities. They commonly work as part of a larger team, consisting of pathologists, odontologists and other professionals involved with human remains identification.
Forensic anthropologists are also concerned with time since death estimation. In particular, their expertise is utilised in cases involving advanced decomposition, burning, dismemberment and other alterations that may make the determination of time since death difficult. They also conduct research into the factors that influence the rate and pattern of decomposition, known as forensic taphonomy. This research aims to provide a better understanding of the processes of decomposition and therefore improve the accuracy of time since death estimation.
The School of Forensic and Investigative Science has established the first facility in the UK dedicated to research into forensic taphonomy, Taphonomic Research in Anthropology – Centre for Experimental Study (TRACES). Here, postgraduate researchers from within the school and from other institutions conduct research using animal models.
TRACES staff and MSc Forensic Anthropology students have had a significant presence at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy Forensic Sciences and have published extensively in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Forensic Sciences and Forensic Science Policy and Management.
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