Forensic anthropology is the science that applies the principles of physical anthropology like craniometry, osteometry, odontology, osteomorphics etc. to aid in legal investigation pertaining to identification, age and sex estimation, estimation of time since death etc.
The history of forensic anthropology dates back to the time when physical anthropology evolved. Study of human evolution, variations and changes the man acquired during the course of evolution grabbed the attention and the term ‘Anthropology’ was coined by Aristotle. Since forensic science is an applied science, it uses the principles and techniques of physical anthropology for its purpose. So, to study the history of forensic anthropology let us first get an insight into some important principles and contributions in the field of physical anthropology:
1-Racial craniology: The study of morphological differences in skulls of various races began with Herodotus (484-425 BC) who noted morphological differences in skulls of inhabitants of Egypt, Greece, Libya etc. Later, Vesalius (1514-1564) noted morphological differences in skulls of various races. J.F Blumenbach contributed to the same based on craniological materials and is hailed as the Father of Physical Anthropology.
2-Craniometry: Anders Retzius (1796-1860) first used Cephalic Index i.e. the ratio of maximum width of the skull (biparietal diameter) to the maximum length (occipitofrontal diameter) multiplied by 100. He classified skull into 3 categories based on cephalic index:
i-Dolicocephalic: Cephalic index less than 75 (tall)
ii-Mesaticephalic: Cephalic index between 75-83 (medium)
iii-Brachycephalic: Cephalic index greater than 83 (broad)
3-Odontology and Dentistry: The study of teeth is age old and it evolved as a result of dental problems, majorly tooth decay. Odontology peaked during 17th century, when, in 1723, Pierre Fauchard published a book on dentistry and treatment of dental problems for which he was awarded the prestigious title of ‘Father of Modern Dentistry’. In 1840, first dental college was opened and in 1860, American Dental Association was formed.
4-Rigor and Algor mortis: The phenomenon of rigor mortis i.e. postmortem stiffening of muscles, was first discovered by P.H Nysten in 1811 and its physiological basis was first established in 1945 by Szent-Gyorgyi. Later, algor mortis characterized by postmortem changes in body temperature was discovered by Dowler in 1849.
History of Forensic Anthropology and Odontology
1-The Formative Period (1800-1938)
This period marked the beginning of forensic anthropology. It was dominated by the famous lectures and publications of Thomas Dwight, Father of Forensic Anthropology. He gave lectures on human identification, researched methods for estimation of age, height and sex from sternum, establishing stature without using bones of arms and legs, using the closure joints between bones of skull to determine the age.
Facial reconstruction: In 1884, Welcker was the first to establish identity of remains by comparison with portraits. He used a sort of superimposition technique to reach these conclusions and also did a research on facial tissue thickness concept in order to aid in facial reconstruction.
In 1895, His reconstructed the skull of Johann Sebastian on the basis of facial tissue thickness concept of Welcker. Kollman and His worked extensively in this field and collected data on facial tissue thickness.
In 1916, at Brooklyn, a blind facial reconstruction was carried out and when the reconstructed head was published in a newspaper, it was recognized as that of dead Italian La Rosa. This case was a turning point in forensic facial reconstruction.
Forensic odontology: Dr. Oscar Amoedo, father of forensic odontology, wrote the first book on forensic odontology which was published in 1898. The use of dental evidences dates back to Laullia Paulina case in 66AD. The first use of dental evidences was in 1814, in the case of Janet MacAllister in Scotland. The use of odontology for age estimation was first carried out in 1795 when Prince Louis XVII died in prison at the age of 10 years. When it was planned to erect a monument in child’s memory, rumours spread that he was still alive and someone else had been buried in his place. Dental examination confirmed the same.
Parkman murder case: The murder case of George Parkman in 1849 was solved by Oliver Holmes and Jeffries Wyman. They found a dismembered body in a septic tank and a burnt head in a furnace. They determined the stature to be 5 feet 101/2-inch white male, age 50-50 years, dentures that were found in furnace matched the molds of the Parkman’s mouth made by his dentist.
Leutgert case: Adolph Leutgert was accused of murdering his wife Louisa in 1897 and placing her body in Vat of potash at his sausage factory. Four small pieces of bones and a ring was recovered. The prosecution called George Dorcey, he identified that the fragments were that of a human hand, foot and rib. Though he could not give the required information, but his report corroborated with other evidences led to the conviction of Adolph Leutgert.
Buck Ruxton case: In Great Britain, Buck Ruxton was convicted of murdering two women; his wife Isabella and her personal maid Mary Rogerson. Their mutilated and dismembered bodies were recovered and photographic superimposition was used to establish their identity. The case was investigated by John Glaister and J.C Brash.
2-The Consolidation Period (1939-1971)
In 1940, Krogman wrote 2 letters in FBI Law enforcement bulletin informing that physical anthropologists could be used to aid in skeletal identification. As a result of this U.S military began to hire physical anthropologists for identification of war dead soldiers.
Central Identification Laboratory was established in Hawaii with Charles E. Snow as the head. During this period, Wilton Krogman published a guide for the identification of human skeletal remains.
In 1969, William Bass published “Recent Developments in the Identification of Human Skeletal Material” and “Developments in the Identification of Human Skeletal Material” in 1979 reffering as forensic anthropology.
3-The Modern Period (1972-Present)
It started with the establishment of Physical anthropology section at American Academy of Forensic Science in 1972 with Ellis Kerley and Clyde Snow as its founding members.
The American board of Forensic Anthropology was established in 1977.
Elizabeth miller became the anthropology consultant for the los angeles county department of medical examiner in 1999 and reported a record 52 cases of which 29 involved animal remains
During 20th century, Mikhail Gerasimov pioneered forensic facial reconstruction. He developed a new method of facial reconstruction on the basis of anatomical features of face and facial musculature.
The importance of facial reconstruction was then realized by Wilton Krogman, who checked the specificity of this method in forensics and collaborated with Batty Gatliff and Clyde Snow to develop American 3D method of facial reconstruction based on average tissue thickness data of various races, age groups and sex.
In 1984, Neave developed a new method of facial reconstruction which combines the use of facial musculature and average tissue thickness concept which came to be known as UK Manchester method.
During the past two decades, computerized methods of reconstruction have been developed. It was first done by Moss and his colleagues in London. It acquired facial data using a laser video camera and mapped it on to skull.
2-Golda: A look at the History of Forensic Anthropology, Journal of Contemporary anthropology, Volume 1 (2010), Issue 1
3-N. Balachander, N. Aravindha Babu, Sudha JIMSON, C. Priyadharsini, K. M. K. Masthan Evolution of Forensic Odontology: An overview, J Pharm Bioallied Sci 2015 Apr, 7(Suppl 1): S176-S180.doi: 10.4103/0975-7406. 155894 PMCID: PMC4439663
5-Laura Verze, History of facial reconstruction, Acta bio-medica: Attenie Parmenis 2009; 80: 5-12