Forensic Anthropology: If Bones Could Talk

Photo source: Wikipedia.
Photo source: Wikipedia.

Forensic Anthropology And John Wayne Gacy…

Little did Chicago residents know that between 1972-1978, businessman, community leader and the neighborhood clown at birthday parties was in fact a serial killer. John Wayne Gacy was said to have assaulted and murdered at least 33 boys before he was finally convicted. Out of the 33 boys, 29 of them were buried in the crawl space beneath Gacy’s house.

After Gacy was arrested, a team of forensic anthropologists braved the stench of decomposition and recovered all the human remains from the crawl space. Using facial reconstruction and age estimates based on the bones, the team was able to identify all but 9 of the boys. Thus, the most famous case to use forensic anthropology was born.

Before they were called upon to help in the upcoming field of forensic science, anthropologists mainly dissected human remains mainly as a way of understanding history. For example, if construction workers stumble upon human remains at a construction site, the site must close down and a team of anthropologists are called in to determine whether it is a burial site.

They study the bones to find out the age and the heritage. That is especially important because it the site is determined to be of Native American heritage, then it automatically becomes a sacred burial ground and construction must cease.

Forensice Science School List

So how do anthropology and forensics work together? Consider this example:  a man hunting with his dog stumbles upon human remains in the woods. The remains are brought back to the lab and studied.  Forensic anthropologists will determine right away:  age, sex, stature and cause of death (if it can be identified.) Because of examples like this, forensic anthropology was born.

The human body continues to change as we grow, so it is fairly easy for an anthropologist to determine the age. If, for example, there are still baby teeth, then obviously the remains are that of a child. Adults are a little more difficult, so an anthropologist will usually estimate a range such as an adult between the ages of 20 and 30.

Sex and stature are easy to identify as well. A female’s pelvic region differs from a male’s because of child birthing capabilities.  For stature, the bones are measured to estimate the height. After combining these elements, a forensic anthropologist might declare that the remains are a young female between the ages of 20 to 30 who was around 5’5.

Determining the cause of death, however, is trickier. A forensic anthropologist can easily figure out if the deceased was murdered if there are signs of a bullet hole or stab wounds.  It is almost impossible to tell if the person was strangled, poisoned or even murdered at all if there aren’t any visible signs.

Forensic Anthropology

For those of you who are interested in anthropology and forensics, you now can combine the two fields of study. In order to become a forensic anthropologist, most colleges advise students to either earn a Bachelor’s Degree in anthropology or forensic science. If your major is forensic science, then your minor should be anthropology.

For those of you who are already working in either field, there are trainings around the world for you to attend to obtain the necessary credentials to work in the field of forensic anthropology. The average salary for a forensic anthropologist is $55,000. Once you are established in your field, you can offer your expertise for court cases and charge per hour.