Skip to content

What is Forensic Anthropology?

Generally speaking forensic anthropology is the examination of human skeletal remains for law enforcement agencies to determine the identity of unidentified bones.

Further definition of the term is necessary to understand the scope and basis of forensic anthropology. Anthropology alone is the study of man. Anthropologists are interested in culture (cultural anthropologists), language (linguistic anthropologists), the physical remains or artifacts left behind by human occupation (archaeologists), and human remains or bones and teeth (physical anthropologists).

Forensic anthropologists are commonly portrayed in the media as forensic scientists and/or crime scene technicians, but this is not accurate.

Over the past century physical anthropologists (those who study human remains) have developed methods to evaluate bones to figure out things about people who lived in the past. These techniques help them to answer questions about the remains they are studying.

The questions that might be looked into include: Was this individual male or female? How old were they when they died? How tall were they? Were the people studied in good or poor general health?

Forensic anthropology involves the application of these same methods to modern cases of unidentified human remains. Through the established methods, a forensic anthropologist can aid law enforcement in establishing a profile on the unidentified remains. The profile includes sex, age, ethnicity, height, length of time since death, and sometimes the evaluation of trauma seen on bones.

In many cases after identity of an individual is made, the forensic anthropologist is called to testify in court regarding the identity of the remains and/or the trauma or wounds present on the remains.

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.