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Keywords:

  • Applied anthropology;
  • Skeletal biology;
  • Skeletal identification

Abstract

Physical anthropologists have long been called upon to apply their knowledge of human skeletal biology to practical problems of concern to the medicolegal system. The discipline of forensic anthropology arose out of this need to determine and assess the characteristics of an individual. The present paper traces the development of forensic anthropology and analyzes its brief historical roots, methodological advances, and the role it now plays in both the anthropological community and the criminal justice system. Since its formal establishment as a section of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in 1972, the discipline has made great strides, especially in the determination of demographic characteristics such as age, sex, and race. There is, however, a dearth of research on the factors of individualization accompanied by a proliferation of improperly designed studies. Unfortunately, further progress is limited by the absence of a precisely documented, modern skeletal collection. This paper also addresses the issue of identification and the problems associated with current approaches and the interpretation of results. This critical review of the field leads to the conclusion that the future of forensic anthropology depends on the commitment of its practitioners and investigators to the research and development of forensically applicable techniques.