Skip to Main Content

ASM275: Forensic Anthropology

Researching Forensic Anthropology

Create a Research Poster for a Famous Case Involving Forensic Anthropology

The goal of this activity is to become familiar with searching the MCC Library and Internet to find credible and scholarly sources of information to support your course assignments.

  • Review the case to which your group is assigned.
  • Jot down any keywords and/or research questions and issues that come to mind.
  • Use those keywords to practice searching MCC Library and Internet Sources.  For example, you might consider researching:

  • Remember, always evaluate what your find to ensure it is credible and/or scholarly! The CRAAP Test is one set of criteria commonly applied.

Group 1

Assassination of John F. Kennedy: I'm sure most of you know that President Kennedy was assassinated in Texas in 1963, but what you may not know is that forensic anthropology helped piece together what happened. Initially, it was believed that the shot came from the "grassy knoll" in front and slightly above street level. When the bullet hole was examined, however, a large keyhole lesion was found, which suggested that the shot had actually come from behind and above--the fourth floor of the Texas Schoolbook Depository, to be exact.

Group 4

Balkan Genocides: Within the last decade of the 20th century, the Balkans (former Yugoslavia) suffered three wars/invasions that resulted in thousands of deaths. The conflicts involved Serbian forces against Muslim Bosniaks and ethnic Albanians over homeland territories. Most of the forensic work focused on the Srebenica Massacre, during which 8,000 Muslims were killed by Bosnian Serb forces in a little over a week. In 1996, forensic anthropologists from all over the world were asked by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to collect evidence for war crimes. Once they had evidence, though, the forensic anthropologists began identifying victims and returning them to their families whenever possible. Until that time, forensic anthropology was unknown in the Balkans, so the results of the genocides were more global awareness and training in the discipline.

Group 2

World Trade Center Attack: On September 11, 2001, two planes crashed into New York City's Twin Towers, resulting in over 2,700 fatalities from the plane, buildings, and the ground. Fire and explosions from the planes, as well as the collapse of the buildings, produced extremely fragmented and altered human remains. It fell to NYC's Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Charles Hirsch, to organize the recovery and identification of these remains--a rather unenviable task. Because the remains were so fragmentary, genetic testing was the best method of identifying victims. DMORT participated in the recovery effort, along with many forensic anthropologists, whose job was to corroborate victims' identity using biological evidence (to match putative victims' biological profiles) when possible, and to decide if skeletal material was human or non-human. This saved DNA technicians a lot of time, energy, and expense, because it eliminated unnecessary testing.

Group 5

The Romanovs: During the conflict between the Red (Bolsheviks/communists) and White (Imperialist) Russians, Tsar Nicholas II and his family, including Anastasia, were taken to the basement of a mansion and executed in July 1918. But what happened to the bodies? Pro-Tsarists attempted to locate them but couldn't. Then, in 1991, nine skeletons were pulled from a bog outside Ekaterinburg, the city in which the Romanovs were killed. The graves also contained rope, fourteen bullets, and a jar that had once held sulfuric acid. Russian investigators suspected they might be the remains of the Romanov family, but, to be sure, they invited forensic anthropologist Dr. William Maples to examine the remains. Based on the biological profiles, the skeletons closely matched photographs of the Romanov family (except Alexei and Anastasia, whose remains were missing) and their servants.

Group 3

Hurricane Katrina: When Katrina, a category 3 hurricane, hit Mississippi and Louisiana on August 29, 2005, it wreaked massive havoc and resulted in extensive human casualties. Unlike after the World Trade Center attack, however, the bodies of Katrina victims were intact, though quickly decomposing because of exposure to the elements. Thus, many were too decomposed to identify using soft tissue, which is why forensic anthropologists were called in. They examined the skeletons to determine the identities of the deceased. Also, this was the first time that DMORT operated two portable morgues, because the bodies were strewn over two states. One final tidbit about this mass disaster is that the flooding dislodged bodies from graveyards and brought them floating to the surface, adding one more task for the forensic anthropologists.

Group 6

Caylee Anthony: In December 2008, the skeletal remains of a young child were found in a wooded area of Orlando, Florida. Forensic anthropologists determined that they belonged to two-year-old Caylee Anthony, who'd been reported missing by her family in July 2008. Dr. Michael Warren, a forensic anthropologist from the University of Florida, was brought in by the prosecution to show that the duct tape found with Caylee's skeleton was potentially used to suffocate her by covering her mouth and nose. While his testimony did not lead to the indictment of Caylee's killer, it did support that she was murdered via suffocation.

Cases from

The goal of this activity is to get you familiar with searching the MCC Library and Internet to find credible and scholarly sources of information to support your course assignments.

  • Click on the group you are assigned and together skim and scan the article/information.
  • Jot down any keywords and/or research questions or issues that come to mind.
  • Use those keywords to practice searching MCC Library and Internet Sources.  For example, you might consider researching:
    • The context of the crime/event -- what it an individual, a mass atrocity or natural disaster?
    • The sex, stature, age, ancestry/race of the person / persons.
    • Indications of perimortem or postmortem trauma?
    • Indications of disease/pathology?
    • What is the role of the forensic anthropologist in this case? What contributions do they make?
  • Remember, always evaluate what your find to ensure it is credible and/or scholarly! The CRAAP Test is one set of criteria commonly applied.




Determination of ancestral background (race) of a human skeletal or decomposed body is one essential element in the protocol of a forensic anthropologist's laboratory examination. Other categories of investigation are the following:

  1. Are the remains human? Bones and teeth of nonhuman animal species and inorganic materials may be present in a burial deposit.
  2. Do the skeletal remains indicate presence of a single individual? More than one skeleton may be encountered in burials, as in cases of mass genocide, battlefield disposal of the dead, common graves for victims of epidemics, and other situations where commingling of human remains is encountered.
  3. The sex of the decadent.
  4. The individual's age at time of death.
  5. The stature of a subject may be estimated if bones of the upper and lower extremities are present and sufficiently complete for measurement and the use of regression formulas appropriate for different human populations.
  6. Some diseases leave markers on bones and teeth. If a diagnosis is accurate, this may assist the forensic anthropologist in personal identification.
  7. Evidence of past or recent traumatic assaults to the body, such as bullet holes, infliction of blunt- or sharpforce agents and strangulation, may provide some information about the life history of the decadent.
  8. Time elapsed since death may be estimated on the basis of degree of body tissue degeneration, microenvironment, and insect activity at a burial deposit.
  9. Markers of occupational stress (MOS) are bone or dental modifications resulting from habitual activities continued over relatively long periods of time.
  10. DNA analysis is possible if there is no contamination of the tissues being tested. It may reveal degrees of
    genetic affinities between individuals and populations.
  11. Cultural practices, such as capping the front teeth with gold for a more sparkling smile, tooth filing, cranial deformation introduced in childhood, and foot binding, may lead to personal identification. These physical characteristics and customs for disposing of the dead may shed light on the lifeways of the deceased.
  12. The manner of death involves determination of evidence of natural causes, accidents, homicides, and suicides, although how the decadent died may be uncertain. Cause of death is determined by a medical examiner.
  13. Determination of ancestry (race).

Kennedy, Kenneth A. R. "Forensic Anthropology." Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, edited by Patrick L. Mason, 2nd ed., vol. 2, Macmillan Reference USA, 2013, pp. 178-182. Gale eBooks, Accessed 28 Jan. 2020.