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Forensic Update

Forensic Update
The FBI Laboratory Division’s New Forensic Anthropology Program

Anthropologist measuring human skull.

The FBI’s Laboratory Division is pleased to announce a new service: forensic anthropology, the analysis of human skeletal remains in a medico-legal context. It is a branch of physical anthropology concerned with the interpretation of skeletal features that may be shared among groups, reflect an individual’s life history, make a person unique, or indicate how and when someone may have died.

The Forensic Anthropology Program (FAP), a subgroup of the Trace Evidence Unit (TEU), began its pilot year in April 2010. The FAP was established to provide both laboratory analysis and field assistance for cases involving skeletal remains. Like other FBI Laboratory services, forensic anthropological examinations are provided free of charge to duly constituted law enforcement agencies in support of investigative and intelligence priorities. The FAP is currently staffed by two full-time forensic anthropologists.

Laboratory analyses that FAP anthropologists can conduct include

  • determination of whether or not suspect material is bone;
  • examination of whether bones are human or nonhuman;
  • resolution of commingling (if more than one body/skeleton is present);
  • estimation of a deceased’s age, sex, ancestry, and stature;
  • analysis of skeletal trauma, including projectile, blunt force, sharp force, and burning;
  • identification of skeletal features that may help lead to identification;
  • confirmation of identity by comparison to medical records; and
  • assistance with facial approximations prepared by forensic artists.
Anthropologist measuring bone.

Bones submitted for analysis should be individually packaged in paper bags or other breathable material and marked with biohazard or refrigeration stickers as appropriate. Good judgment should be exercised when packaging bones to minimize damage from contact or movement during shipping. If in doubt, please contact the Laboratory with questions about submitting skeletal remains. Skeletal remains submitted to the Laboratory also can be forwarded for DNA analysis.

FAP anthropologists also may deploy to the field to assist with

  • detection of clandestine graves;
  • surface searches for scattered skeletal remains;
  • identification/location of burned or submerged remains;
  • recovery of surface or buried remains; and
  • preliminary field analyses, which can potentially eliminate the collection and analysis of nonforensic material (such as animal bones).

Deployments are coordinated through the Evidence Response Team Unit (ERTU). Please call ERTU with requests for anthropological field assistance.

FAP anthropologists also can provide lectures and training upon request. For more information about the FBI’s Forensic Anthropology Program or for questions regarding a specific case, please call TEU at 703-632- 8449 or e-mail one of the anthropologists: Dr. Angi Christensen (angi.christensen@ic.fbi.gov) or Dr. Richard Thomas (richard.m.thomas@ic.fbi.gov).