The discovery of bones is an occasion that calls for the expertise of a forensic anthropologist. One of the most popular TV shows featuring this class of professionals is aptly named “Bones.” Although one cannot take everything seen on this show at face value, it does provide an insight into what this career entails. The process of identifying the bones is not as cut and dried as it appears on TV and the solution is not always available within a short period of time.
As soon as a potential crime scene is discovered, forensic anthropologists are called into action. Their first job is to ascertain whether the bones found are human or from an animal of some kind. Even if they are the bones of an animal, they will try to ascertain the type of animal because the find could be important to archaeologists.
First the anthropologist has to secure the scene to limit the amount of further contamination of the evidence. The bones must be carefully collected and the scene examined to make sure that none are left behind. The bones are transported to a lab where they must be cleaned and analyzed. If the body is intact, the scientists will conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death. DNA samples are collected and compared with those of missing persons that are on record. If the DNA samples do not match any on record, then the investigation will include scouring unsolved cases to possibly find a match.
Autopsy and DNA collection are but two of the ways that forensic anthropologists collect evidence. They do try to reconstruct the body by placing all the bones in the right places and by examining the structure of the skull they are able to come up with a composite of what the person looked like when he/she was alive.
Hairs and fibers of all kinds are also collected at the scene. DNA can be obtained from hair samples and it may lead to the perpetrator of the crime if there is a homicide. Fibers from clothing or cloth in which the body was wrapped can also lead forensic scientists to making a firm conclusion of what the person was wearing at the time of death. By comparing this information with what is on file for missing persons, they can make an identification. Such identification of the body can then provide investigators with leads to follow in determining how the body ended up where it did and who committed the crime.
When an autopsy is not possible because of deterioration of the body, a study of the bones will give forensic anthropologists clues to what happened to this person. Trauma to the bones can indicate a blow that resulted in death or it can show evidence of an injury sustained at some time in the past. Along with looking for possible injuries and fatal wounds, they will also scour the scene for any evidence of a murder weapon, whether it is a stick or a bullet.
The job of a forensic anthropologist is an essential one, but it is not as glorious as that portrayed on TV.