Topics in Anthropology: Forensic Anthropology

Summer Session 1
21:070:314:B5: Topics in Anthropology: Forensic Anthropology

Instructor: Kelly Kamnikar


What happens when bones are found? How can you tell if they are human or not? Can you tell who the skeletal remains belong to or how a person died? Is the television show “Bones” an accurate representation of forensic anthropology? How are forensic anthropologists involved in human rights investigations such as forced migration, conflict, or genocide? Forensic anthropology is the study of the human skeleton within the medicolegal context. This field of inquiry is espoused within biological anthropology and applies principles of human variation from modern, living people to individuals recovered within forensic contexts. Forensic anthropologists use techniques rooted in the scientific method to draw conclusions from the recovery and analysis of skeletal remains. These conclusions help them understand who the person was and the circumstances surrounding their death. Demographic research in forensic anthropology uses reference data from known individuals in large skeletal collections across the globe to answer questions about human variation. Additionally, experimental research in trauma and taphonomy examine what happens to the human body to produce specific injury patterns or taphonomic signatures that relate to the many ways in which bodies are disposed of and later found. Forensic anthropologists consider the intersection of historical and sociocultural phenomena on the living and the dead, illustrating the importance of a holistic Anthropological approach.

In this course, students will learn introductory human osteology, understand how the skeleton can be utilized to estimate a biological profile (age, sex, ancestry, and stature), and aid in trauma analysis. The course will use case examples from forensic work in the United States and global humanitarian contexts, highlighting the essential work of forensic anthropologists. Exposure to this field will broaden knowledge on the application of anthropology to the medicolegal system in the U.S. and contexts where the dead and missing impact the living.