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What is forensic anatomy?

The police cannot be experts in all aspects of a murder investigation and as we saw in the last step, will often require additional expertise to help solve a case.

Crime Scene Investigators (CSIs), like Nicola, will assess the areas of a case to focus on in order to determine the identity of a victim, why and how a murder happened, and who the perpetrator was. Once this has been established, they can determine where in the investigation they require additional expertise and begin to identify which individuals or organisations can provide this assistance.

Universities employ individuals with a high level of training, research, and expertise in specific subject areas and for this reason, are often contacted to assist with an investigation.

When trying to identify a murder victim and the cause of death, the Police will often ask for advice from academics involved in the identification of human remains. This can include anatomists, archaeologists, anthropologists, and medics. These specialists often teach and carry out research as their primary job and are asked to give their expert opinion to the Police on a case by case basis.

In this course, we’re going to focus on the role that forensic anatomy plays in the identification of human remains. Anatomy is a branch of biology concerned with the structure of humans including the skeletal, muscular and skin biology. Forensic anatomy combines this understanding with forensic science techniques to determine the identity of human remains.

There is no one clear path to becoming involved in the field of forensic anatomy. However, all experts will have extensive training in physiological and pathological human osteology and musculoskeletal anatomy.

Forensic experts may specialise and have an in-depth knowledge of a particular aspect of forensic anatomy. For example, a Funerary Archaeologist may be asked to analyse burnt human remains, a Forensic Anthropologist may be asked to advise when the Police believe the ancestry of a murder victim is key to an investigation and an expert in facial reconstruction may be asked to consult when an identification from a human skull is required.

The biological profile of every skeleton is unique. An analysis of skeletal features can answer many questions about an unidentified person. This enables the police to target specific aspects of a missing persons database and to release information to the general public who may be able to assist with the identification.

In the next step, we’ll discover just how much information a skeleton can reveal.

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This article is from the free online course:

Forensic Facial Reconstruction: Finding Mr. X

The University of Sheffield