What do forensic anthropologists do?

Professor Marin Pilloud breaks down what forensic anthropologists do and what education they need.

3/12/2018 | By: Marin Pilloud |

Forensic anthropologists are tasked with examining human skeletal remains in a medicolegal context.  Typically such work can include identifying the sex, age, ancestry, and stature of an unidentified set of remains.  They also regularly assist in evaluating trauma, to include blunt and sharp force trauma, or gunshot wounds.  Forensic anthropologists can also assist in evaluating the level of decomposition of a set of remains that can help determine the time since death.  All of this work is critical in making a positive identification and in determining the cause and manner of death of the decedent.

Forensic anthropologists are also trained as forensic archaeologists, which means they are adept at the recovery and excavation of human remains.  They are regularly called in by law enforcement to assist in these efforts.  Training in osteology (study of bones) and archaeology is critical for this work, enabling them to not only recover human remains, but also to identify if material is bone, whether or not it is human or animal bone, and most importantly, whether it is of forensic significance (and not archaeological or historic).

To become a forensic anthropologists requires a PhD in biological anthropology and several years of training and experience.  Many forensic anthropologists are university professors who consult on cases with outside agencies (e.g., district attorneys, law enforcement, and medical examiner's offices).  Other forensic anthropologists are employed full-time at a medical examiner or coroner's office, at museums (e.g., Smithsonian), by the Department of Defense (Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System), or they work in other agencies (e.g., the International Committee of the Red Cross, International Commission on Missing Persons) dealing with human rights issues.

Professor Marin Pilloud

Assistant Professor Marin Pilloud studies forensic anthropology, bioarchaeology, dental anthropology, prehistoric California, and Neolithic Anatolia. She focuses on how the human skeleton can inform our understanding of human behavior in archaeological contexts and also be used in a forensic context as part of the biological profile.


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