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Overview of Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Dentistry

Date Published
April 4, 2013

Forensic anthropologists examine "skeletonized" or otherwise compromised human remains to assess age, gender, height and ancestry; identify injuries; and estimate the time since death. Examination of these remains may give information that can assist investigators in identifying a victim.

Forensic dentists, or odontologists, examine the development, anatomy and any restorative dental corrections of the teeth, such as fillings, to make a comparative identification of a person.

Bones and teeth are the most durable parts of the human body and may be the only recognizable remains in cases of decomposition, fire scenes or mass fatalities, and can be used to identify an individual in such cases. For example, when law enforcement officials find unidentified human remains such as teeth, this critical piece of evidence may be the only resource investigators can use to compare to dental records of known missing persons to determine the person's identity.

NIJ funds projects to improve:

  • Recovery and identification of victims in mass fatality events.
  • Estimation of age, gender and ancestral origin of human remains.
  • Facial reconstruction of unidentified individuals.
  • Detection of human remains in concealed graves or at compromised scenes such as fatal fires.

Date Published: April 4, 2013