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Forensic Anthropology. “There is a brief but very informative biography of an individual contained within the skeleton, if you know how to read it…” -Clyde Snow, forensic anthropologist. Alphonse Bertillon. Father of Anthropo metry Developed ID method based on 11 measurements

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Forensic Anthropology

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forensic anthropology

Forensic Anthropology

“There is a brief but very informative biography of an individual contained within the skeleton, if you know how to read it…”

-Clyde Snow, forensic anthropologist

alphonse bertillon
Alphonse Bertillon
  • Father of Anthropometry
    • Developed ID method based on 11 measurements
    • Unreliable – abandoned for fingerprints
bone function
Bone Function
  • 206 bones in an adult human
  • Function of bones:
    • Provides structure and rigidity
    • Protects soft tissue and organs
    • Serves as an attachment for muscles
    • Produces blood cells
    • Serves as a storage area for minerals
    • Can detoxify the body by removing heavy metals and other foreign elements from the blood

Anthropologists can use either whole bones or PIECES OF BONE to make the following determinations:

      • An age range
      • Sex
      • Race
      • Approximate height
      • Cause of death, disease, or anomaly
you will be able to
You will be able to:
  • Distinguish between a male and a female skeleton
  • Give an age range after examining unknown remains
  • Describe differences in skull features among the three major racial categories
  • Estimate height by measuring long bones
bones and landmarks to know
Bones and landmarks to know:
  • Cranial bones
  • Cranial Sutures
  • Mandible
  • Teeth
  • Epiphyseal Line/Plate
  • Vertebral column
  • Sacrum
  • Coccyx
  • Coxal bones
  • Pubic symphysis
  • Pubic arch
  • Sciatic notch
  • Hyoid
  • Clavicle
  • Humorus
  • Radius
  • Ulna
  • Carpals
  • Metacarpals
  • Phalanges
  • Femur
  • Patella
  • Tibia
  • Fibula
  • Metatarsals
  • Tarsals
  • At birth, humans have approximately 450 bones
  • Bones fuse as we grow
  • The last bone fuses at ~26 YOA
  • There are 206 bones in the adult body

Age Determination

Most accurate estimations from:

  • Teeth
  • Epiphyses or growth plates
  • Pubic symphysis
  • Cranial sutures: the three major cranial sutures appear as distinct lines in youth and gradually close from the inside out.

Investigators always use an age range because of the variation in people and how they age. The investigator does not want to eliminate any possibilities for identification.

age determination using cranial sutures
Age Determination Using Cranial Sutures

Sagittal suture

Sagittal suture completely closed

  • Males—26 or older
  • Female—29 or older

Sagittal suture is complete open

  • Male—less than 32
  • Female—less than 35

Complete closure of all three major sutures

  • Male—over 35
  • Female—over 50



age determination using basilar suture
Age Determination Using Basilar Suture
  • Basilar Suture
  • Technically known as the synchondrosis spheno-occipitalis, closes in females as young as 14 and in males as young as 16. If the suture is open, the individual is generally considered 18 or younger.

What else can we learn from bones?

DNA samples can be collected from bone, teeth, and hair to provide clues to a person’s identity.

Scientists may also be able to gain clues as to a person’s past, recent injuries, or the cause of death based on bone fractures and other signs of trauma.

Damage from a hammer

Healed Fractures

Gunshot Wounds


facial restoration
Facial Restoration

Detective’s Story:

After determining the sex, age, and race of an individual, facial features can be built upon a skull to assist in identification. Erasers are used to make tissue depths at various points on the skull. Clay is used to build around these markers and facial features are molded.

Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company

steps in facial reconstruction
With a skull:

Establish age, sex and race

Plot landmarks for tissue thickness

Plot origin and insertion points for muscles

Plot landmarks for facial features

Select a dataset and mount markers for tissue thickness

Mount the eyes

Model muscles on skull

Add fatty tissue around eyes and lacrimal glands

Add eyelids

Add the nose

Add the parotid gland

Add the ears

Cover all with layers of skin

Detail the face

Steps in Facial Reconstruction

Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company

john emil list
John Emil List
  • “Breeze Knoll” Westfield, NJ
  • Three kids, wife, and mother
  • Late 60s early 70s
  • Nov 9th: Vacation staycation
"I'm sorry that it all had to end this way but with so little income I just couldn't go on keeping the family together. And I didn't want them to experience poverty." He made the same excuse to Helen's mother, the children's maternal grandmother. He also mentioned that he could not be sure that their souls would remain pure in the future, giving the impression that he believed he had killed them for their own good. To save his own mother from anguish, he had killed her, too.
  • August 1972, house burnt down – arson unsolved
  • 18 year manhunt
wanda flannery
  • Tabloids
  • Neighbor Bob Clark
one final product
One Final Product

John List killed his entire family, moved to a new town and assumed a new identity. Seventeen years later, Frank Bender reconstructed what he believed List would look like. It was shown on America’s Most Wanted, and he was turned in by the viewers almost immediately. . . looking very much like the reconstruction.

Check out more about this story on CourtTV’s crime library:

Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company

tools of the trade
Tools of the Trade
  • Tools of Anthropologists

Reading the Remains

Watch the video and then answer the questions.

What information do they provide for law enforcement agencies?

How many skeletons do they have in their collection?

What do they learn about a skeleton from each tool?

CT Scan –

X- ray –

Mass spectrometer –

Scanning electron microscope –

DNA Analysis –


Forensic Tools & Techniques

Watch the video and then answer the questions.

What techniques or tools did the scientists use to find the body?

What is “disturbed soil”? What might it indicate?

How did they narrow down the areas to investigate?

Did they find a body?

how to excavate bones
How to excavate bones
  • What is the correct procedure for excavating bone?
  • What is the “context” of the bones?
  • What materials are the excavation tools made of?
  • Why is this material used?