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Forensic Anthropology is rapidly developing a high profile both internationally and domestically. Much of this interest has been catalysed by way of media coverage of investigations into crimes against humanity and unsolved murders. Australians have been involved in this kind of work recently in, for example, East Timor and the Solomon Islands.
Forensic Anthropology, as a discipline, is primarily concerned with developing and applying a range of anthropological and archaeological skills to questions of medico-legal importance. Traditionally the discipline is broken down into three main sub-fields:
- (1) forensic osteology
- (2) forensic archaeology
- (3) forensic taphonomy
Forensic osteology uses methods and procedures developed in physical anthropology and focuses on human identification by way of the analysis of physical remains (skeletal and dental material in general).
Forensic archaeology is concerned with managing and often excavating crime scenes that contain human remains (including mass graves in war-crimes situations).
Forensic taphonomy is the examination and analysis of the various biological (e.g. decomposition), environmental (climate, soil acidity, temperature etc), and cultural (e.g. evidence for trauma) changes that can impact on human remains both at the time of death and after death.