Bruce Anderson – “The Interplay Between Forensic Anthropology and Bioarchaeology in Interpreting Human Skeletal Variability”

Our skeletons silently record much of our individual life histories Ceramic figure from Tlatilco, Mexico

Forensic Anthropology and Bioarchaeology are fundamentally different in scope yet inextricably linked.  While the skeletal analyses performed during routine forensic anthropological casework are nearly always done on unrelated individuals, skeletal analyses performed during bioarchaeological investigations are typically done on related groups of people.  Thus, bioarchaeological research has the advantage of utilizing skeletal series of related individuals who likely lived in a similar environment.  This combination of being genetically related and being exposed to similar environmental factors is essential in arriving at an appreciation of human skeletal variability.  Most practicing forensic anthropologists today learned human skeletal variability while examining and performing research on these groups of related individuals.  The skeletal analyses performed on the individual are made possible because of the results derived on the skeletal analyses of these different groups.  However, the advantage that forensic anthropology casework provides is in the potential of identifying the individual as a specific person and then examining antemortem records to learn the specific life history of that person.  By comparing the postmortem skeletal profile to the antemortem records of a specific person, forensic anthropologists continually test the hypotheses generated from bioarchaeological research.  This feedback loop between bioarchaeological research and forensic anthropological testing serves to provide all of us with better methods and techniques for performing human skeletal analyses.  An example of forensic anthropological casework in which a large group of individuals, related to one another at varying levels, can be encountered is the nearly 2000 migrants who have died in southern Arizona over the past decade.  This group of people will be highlighted in terms of what their skeletons have taught us, and continue to teach us, about what it means to be a foreign-born Southwest Hispanic.


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