Ten questions one should ask when skeletal remains are found


Ten questions one should ask when skeletal remains are found and for which a Forensic Anthropologist will likely have to be called in

1) Is it bone or another type of material? Fragmented bones can be very difficult to place especially when they have been burned, broken or otherwise deformed.
2) Is the bone human or of animal origin? There are many close similarities between animal and human bone structures which might confuse the investigator. Especially the vertebrae, rib, long bones, pelvis and small bones of hand and feet tend to contain substantial resemblances between the two species. Bones of small children and infants tend to be difficult to place as ununited epiphyses (growth centres) result in more bones than expected.
3) Are the remains modern or are we dealing with ancient remains? Buried remains can be difficult to date, especially when they have been placed in a protective environment (coffin, wrapped up, embalmed)
4) Are all the bones accounted for? Not having recovered all the bones could have serious implications on the results of the investigation (e.g. broken hyoid bone indicates strangulation).
5) Are we dealing with one or more victims? When dealing with bone fragments or multiple bones it may be very difficult to establish the exact number of victims.
6) What is the race/ethnic background of the victim? It is difficult to exactly define race, but the “three race model” (Mongoloid, Caucasoid and Negroid) can be used to place the morphological characteristics of the skeletal remains.
7) What is the sex of the victim? Even though clothing and/or soft tissue might provide clues concerning the sex of the victim, there are also bone characteristic which experts can use to define the sex of the skeletal remains. Especially the skull and the pelvis appear to be reliable indicators of sex.
8) What is the age of the victim? Forensic Anthropologists can be very helpful in providing an age determination range for the victim. It depends on the estimated age of the victim how narrow this range will be. For example in children under three the age can be provided with a 3-4 months range, but after 35-40 years of age the range becomes as large as 5-10 years.
9) How tall was the victim? Forensic Anthropologists can use a number of charts (sex and race specific) to determine the height of the victim through for example the long bones of the legs.
10) What are individual characteristics of the skeletal remains which might provide clues for the investigation? Answers to this question will include characteristics which will help establish the identity of the victim (dental, bone deformities, medical devices etc).

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