Anthropology - Other

An Introduction to Forensic Anthropology



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Make no bones about it, forensic anthropology requires and tests both mettle and marrow.

Forensic anthropology involves detailed knowledge of human physiology and archaeology and most practicing forensic anthropologists possess doctoral degrees in such disciplines as human anatomy, archaeology, and biological anthropology.

As its name dictates, forensic anthropology is a field within the forensic sciences and a forensic anthropologist's immediate duties deal with applying his or her knowledge and procedures within the legal jurisdiction. Osteology, or the division of anatomy that deals with the [human] skeleton, remains the primary focus of the forensic anthropologist and his profession applies itself toward identifying remains through a study of human skeletal matter as well as determining a time [frame] and probable cause of death.

In an archaeological context, forensic anthropologists are sometimes commissioned to observe and analyze fossilized or mummified remains if a summary analysis makes it appear as if some violence was performed on the skeleton or if the remains came from an epoch or areas where a battle was supposedly fought. As forensic anthropologists are trained to notice and analyze signs of trauma, they are equipped to accurately speculate as to potential or probable causes of death, even if they happened thousands of years ago. The immediate value in such knowledge is to affix more detailed and accurate data to historical events, particularly concerning supposedly prominent individuals, or to supply a better and more accurate historical context to the war-faring, sacrificial, or torture practices of ancient civilizations.

In the first analysis, a forensic anthropologist makes a definitive determination as to whether or not the skeletal remains in fact belonged to a member of species homo sapiens and then he proceeds in his study from that necessary point of embarkation. Having thus established the species of the fossils, the anthropologist can make other determinations more immediately concerned with the timing and manner of the decease of the individual.

Occasionally the work of forensic anthropologists makes headlines, and the most recent prominent case where forensic anthropologists' particular expertise would have been plied in a case of international interest has been the case of U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauerbach. Ms. Lauerbach's charred skeletal remains were unearthed in a shallow grave in the backyard of the Jacksonville, North Carolina residence of U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Cesar Armando Laurean, who is accused of murdering her and has reportedly fled to Mexico.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has offered a reward of up to $25,000 for information leading to the arrest of Laurean, who claimed in a note found in his home that Lauerbach had "come to his residence and cut her (own) throat," according to a statement by Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown to the Associated Press.

The sheriff went on to say that "Evidence now is showing that what he claimed happened didn't happen." Forensic anthropologists assigned to the case certainly would have helped to supply that evidence credited in Brown's statement.

Despite TV dramas such as Fox's "Bones" and Hollywood films like "The Bone Collector" that star A-list actors Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie, the real-life Dr. Temperance Brennans and Lincoln Rhymes usually toil in relative obscurity as their profession is not generally considered to be either a lucrative or a status occupation.

But for those invested in justice for victims such as Lance Corporal Lauerbach or interested in closure for the family of victims of natural and man-made disasters, forensic anthropologists are given all due credit and gratitude.

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