One of the more interesting aspects of forensic science, at least for me, is the study of forensic anthropology. It entails the analysis of human skeletal remains that is within the context of a legal investigation.
During my academic studies, I took forensic anthropology as one of the requirements for my bachelor’s degree in police forensics. I thoroughly enjoyed the class and it made me view skeletal remains in more of a scientific way. I was surprised how I learned to establish the gender of a skeleton from major bones, such as the femur, cranium, mandible, and pelvis.
In both of my novels, Compulsion and Dead Game, the heroine Emily Stone unearths human remains in some of her investigations. In a few different chapters of both books, Emily tracks down the serial killer and the rural burial grounds of the victims. She uses her ingenuity and experience to carefully unearth part of the graves to discover that there were buried bones of young victims with identifying clothing and personal items. She backtracks carefully to ensure that the graves were disturbed as little as possible because that’s where the police investigation begins along with a forensic anthropologist or coroner.
Forensic anthropology entails the methods of examination of the various parts of the skeleton, taking exact measurements, and the process of looking at the particular grooves and bumps on the bone. As this process continues, it can be determined the sex, race, stature, and approximate age of death from the bones. It has been possible to assess if the remains suffered any traumas (such as with homicide cases) or disease. These scientific examinations can reveal more pieces to the investigative puzzle with clues to the health of individuals, whether or not they had given birth, left or right handed, and the type of occupation the individual worked.
There are three important questions that must be answered by a forensic anthropologist to determine the forensic significance of the remains that were discovered.
1. Are the remains actually bone?
This is probably the most important question to begin the examination of the remains. Many times bones can be damaged, crushed, cut, or burned. Bone fragments can be challenging to identify without the proper use of a microscope.
2. Are the remains human?
This is also important because many times bones can be that of animals. The biggest challenge is when bones are scattered in a large area. Many times bones that have been discovered in a rural area is often animal. When flesh or muscle is still attached, deer vertebrae can look similar to human spines, hind paws of bears can look similar to human feet, and the lower tail vertebrae of a horse can look similar to human finger bones.
3. Are the human remains ancient, historic, or modern bones?
The age of the bones is critical to correctly assess the age. Ancient refers to the age of approximately 500 years old, historic refers to the age of approximately 100 to 500 years old, and modern is within the last 50 years. The context of the surface and the actual burial is also important. Sometimes these areas can expose clothing and other personal items that help the investigation and identification.
* * *
Crime Watch Blog: www.emilystonecrimewatch.wordpress.com/
Book & Crime Talk: www.blogtalkradio.com/jennifer-chase/
Books: Compulsion = Dead Game = Silent Partner = Screenwriting