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The skull of a skeleton that is being excavated. It is partially covered in soil.
A skeleton being excavated

What have you learned so far?

This week has introduced you to some of the basic concepts in forensic archaeology and anthropology. You will now have a much better understanding of:

a) What these different disciplines actually involve.

  • Forensic anthropology is focused on the body - decomposition and analysis.

  • Forensic archaeology is focused on the context - locating and excavating the body and associated objects.

b) How this expertise contributes towards the recovery and interpretation of decomposed human remains from forensic contexts.

We have discussed:

  • The application of both archaeology and anthropology to forensic contexts and how this is a relatively recent development.

  • When it is necessary to deploy this expertise in forensic contexts.

  • What happens to the body after death and some specific challenges of dealing with skeletonised human remains.

What you will learn next

This course is structured to follow the actual sequence of events that a forensic practitioner will be faced with:

Week 2:

Locate the grave site(s) using a variety of techniques, from low-tech field-walking to high tech radar; Excavate the body using standardised protocols. We will also look at forensic taphonomy (decomposition) in more detail.

Week 3:

The virtual laboratory. Undertake osteological analysis in the lab (age, sex, stature).

Week 4:

The virtual laboratory continued. Identify trauma or pathology to establish injuries consistent with the cause of death and to establish human identity.

Week 5:

Undertake biomolecular analysis of the skeleton, including DNA, stable isotope and peptide analysis, to help establish identity.

Week 6:

A discussion of challenging contexts. This includes challenging bodies (e.g. burned human remains or commingled bodies) as well as challenging political contexts relating to the deceased.

Below is some further reading and in the next section we have provided a short quiz. This is not assessed and is purely for you to measure your learning so far.

Further Reading

Byers, S. N. 2017. Introduction to Forensic Anthropology. Routledge.

Christensen, A. M., Passalacqua, N. V., Bartelink, E. J. 2014. Forensic Anthropology: Current Methods and Practice. Academic Press.

Gowland, R. L. 2006. Social Archaeology of Funerary Remains. Oxbow.

Gowland, R. L. and Thompson, T. J. U. 2013. Human Identity and Identification. Cambridge University Press

Hunter, J. and Cox, M. 2005. Forensic Archaeology: Advances in Theory and Practice. Routledge.

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This article is from the free online course:

Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology

Durham University