Generally speaking forensic anthropology is the examination of human skeletal remains for law enforcement agencies to help with the recovery of human remains, determine the identity of unidentified human remains, interpret trauma, and estimate time since death.
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 (physical anthropologists).
Over the past century, physical anthropologists have developed methods to evaluate bones to understand people who lived in the past. Such questions might include: Was this individual male or female? How old were they when they died? How tall were they? Were the people 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 of the unidentified remains. The profile includes sex, age, ancestry, height, length of time since death, and sometimes the evaluation of trauma observed 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.