When it comes to crime scenes and solving murders, we are used to the great leaps of intuition Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple has which leads them to unmask the killer in a dramatic and exciting way.
Fortunately, the law requires more than a flash of intuition to convict a person a major crime. One of the groups of people who may be called in to provide the hard evidence needed to get a conviction is a forensic anthropologist.
Getting the call
A forensic anthropologist is often called in when law enforcement forces have unidentified remains or some other confusion at the scene of a crime. Their first job is to establish a biological profile of the remains. Some of the information may be obvious at the scene of a crime – shell casing and a bullet-shaped wound are a clue for most people. But other things need to be done in the laboratory.
Forensic anthropologists are adept at identifying human remains from the non-human. So when it comes to making an assessment of what needs to be collected the anthropologist is really helpful on site.
The physical situation may also have a bearing so another thing they will look for is what else is around, and what bearing it may have on the remains. A forensic anthropologist will be able to assess the effects of water and wind on a skull and work out it is not a traumatic wound.
On the other hand, much of the work of the forensic anthropologist is completed in the much more sterile atmosphere of the lab.
Establishing a biological profile
The biological profile is rather anthropological rather than forensic in nature. The forensic anthropologist will establish the age, sex, and height of a victim. They will also make an assessment of the person’s state of health when they died, and of course the person’s ancestry which is especially helpful when it is not clear from other information.
The forensic anthropologist can tell all sorts of things from a person through their bones. A child with considerable evidence of healed bones may suggest the child was treated violently and perhaps a victim of abuse. On the other hand, they might have been an avid skateboarder.
What the forensic anthropologist does it to gather a picture of what the skeleton has experienced giving clues to the law enforcer to follow.
Having worked out who the person is, the forensic anthropologist will turn their attention to what happened. This is akin to the leap of intuition but much more scientific. This is a slow process. It takes a long time to establish definitely if the wound mark came from a hatchet or from the plow the farmer who found the body uses.
None of this can be guesswork as it means the difference between a conviction or worse, a wrongful conviction. Forensic anthropologists add to the arsenal of tools the law enforcer can use to be sure.