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November 18, 2005

Forensic Anthropology/Human Evolution

Professor Melissa Murphy,
Department of Anthropology, BMC

Forensic Anthropology/Human Evolution

Biological anthropology is the study of human biology within the framework of evolution, with an emphasis on the interaction between biology and cultural. Biological anthropology is composed of several subfields, including paleoanthropology (or human evolution), primatology, paleopathology, and forensic anthropology. The study of the human skeleton is a central component of these subfields The purpose of the laboratory in biological anthropology was twofold. First, the forensic anthropology component was intended to introduce the students to the human skeleton through the methods and techniques of forensic anthropology. When analyzing human remains, forensic anthropologists follow a specific protocol and attempt to answer the following questions:

Are the bones human or animal?

Are the remains of one individual or are there several individuals present?

Are the bones recent (< 50 years) or ancient?

When did the death occur or what is the time since death (postmortem interval)

What is the ancestry of the remains?

Are the remains male or female?

How old was the deceased at the time of death? Adult or child?

How tall was this individual during life?

What was the cause of death (e.g. bullet wound to head)?

What was the manner of death? (homicide, suicide, accident, unknown)

Each laboratory station was designed as an exercise addressing one or more of these questions through hands-on examination of human skeletal remains.In addition, parts of this were designed to dovetail with the preceding laboratory in forensic DNA.

The second part of the laboratory in biological anthropology was an overview of some of the major evolutionary trends in human history, specifically the evolution of bipedalism and the morphological changes in the cranium accompanying the increase in brain size. Students used casts and actual skeletal material to compare the skeletal anatomy of different nonhuman primates, extinct fossils in the human family (e.g. Homo erectus, Neandertals), and modern humans.


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