What is forensic human identification?

Forensic literally means ‘pertaining to the court’, and human identification is the scientific evaluation of features or characteristics person in order to provide information to help identify a person. Taken together, forensic human identification is the evaluation of physical or behavioural traits for medico-legal purposes, which are commonly to assist police to reduce a suspect pool or missing person’s list. Information can include biological characteristics such as sex, age, and height, as well as individuating features such as a DNA profile, a fingerprint, or a dental profile.

There are many different sub-disciplines of forensic human identification, each focussed on analysing and interpreting discrete types of evidence, which is used by investigators to help identify offenders or name deceased persons. One of which is forensic anthropology (‘anthropology’ translates as ‘the study of man’).

What is a forensic anthropologist?

Forensic anthropology can be described as “the analysis of human remains for the medico-legal purpose of establishing identity” (Randolph-Quinney et al., 2010).

Forensic anthropology combines biological anthropology and human osteology, and applies this knowledge to cases where human remains are skeletonized, or where a detailed understanding of the growth and development, morphology (shape), or other information regarding the evaluation of the human body can assist other disciplines in achieving a positive identification.

Forensic anthropology has applicability to cases involving both the living and the dead, as well as criminal offenders and suspects, and victims of crime and accidental deaths.