The History of Forensic Anthropology Evidence Collection

If you ask a person on the street what a forensic anthropologist is, they would most likely look at you with a blank stare. Most are not now or possibly ever going to know that forensic anthropology is the application of the sciences of physical anthropology and human osteology (the study of human bones). It is most often used within law enforcement as a tool to identify victims’ remains when they are in advanced stages of decomposition. These forensic anthropologists can also help identify the remains of people who are severely decomposed, burned, mutilated or otherwise made unidentifiable.

The field of forensic anthropology came into records as early as the 11th century. It is based on the first written account of using forensic anthropology and other branches of forensics in criminal cases in a book called “Collected Cases of Injustice Rectified”, which was written by Song Ci in 1247. Evidence collection now differs a great deal from the 11th century. Thankfully we are now able to take photographs of the scenes, the placement of objects within the place where the deceased is found, and the position of the deceased themselves. Along with photographs needing to be taken, every item must also be labeled for future study.

Clothing plays a part in the collection of forensic evidence. In most cases some form of evidence can be found on clothing, whether it is hair and fibers or bodily fluids. There are usually at least two people who will collect the evidence at a crime scene, one to do the bagging of the objects and another to tag the objects and list them on an evidence log. In the centuries before, evidence collection was not so straight forward and many things were walked upon or tossed aside. Unfortunately for those from those past centuries, they had none of the equipment that today we could never do without.

Trace evidence must be collected, this includes vacuuming floors, it is possible to use a form of tape to collect evidence, but it can also ruin the particles it collects. Also needed are tweezers and small zipper bags, if a hair or fiber is found, it is placed into a small bag that is then sealed into a larger bag.

Many things can be classified as forensics, just not all would be considered for a forensic anthropologist. Their main field is going to be that of the body itself, but they will also collect evidence from the bodies and follow along the same procedures as any other law enforcement agency.