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Lecture 1

Anthropology 2235A/B Lecture 1: Lecture 1 (Final)

Course Code
ANTH 2235A/B
Eldon Molto

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Lecture 1 1
Lecture #1: Trauma Analysis in Skeletonized Remains
Background Information
Apart from determining the biological and personal identity of remains, the forensic anthropologist is
increasingly being asked to render an opinion on the circumstances of death and the decay process
with the analysis of traumatic defects of the skeleton falling within their view
Conducting research on ancient skeletal populations provides significant experience with trauma
analysis since trauma is one of the more common pathologies encountered in past populations
BUT ancient populations did not have guns so that type of trauma training is strictly forensic
The Role of the Anthropologist in trauma analysis
The anthropologist does not determine the cause or manner of death – this is strictly a medical
The expertise of the anthropologist may contribute to the interpretation of the evidence and
determination of the manner of death – so they are able to assist
But the anthropologist cannot discus cause and manner of death in court
Cause, Mechanisms, Mode of Death
Cause of Death – any injury or disease that produces a physiological derangement in the body that
causes cessation of bodily functions (gunshot wound to the head, stab wound of the chest, etc)
Mechanism of Death – the physiological derangement produced by the cause of death that
actually results in death (like hemorrhage, septicemia, cardiac arrhythmia)
cause and mechanism different sides of the same fence; a particular mechanism can be caused by
multiple causes and a particular cause can lead to multiple mechanisms
oFor example: a hemorrhage leading to death can be due to a gunshot wound, a stab
wound, a tumour
Manner of Death – explains how the cause of death came about (natural, homicide, accident,
indeterminate, suicide); a cause of death can have many manners
oNatural causes is typical with elderly people, it is because we don’t do an autopsy
Since the anthropologist mostly deals with bones it translates into why these decisions rest with the
coroner, but the anthropologist opinions are part of the investigation
Death Certificates
Not uncommonly medical examiners and coroners have to review death certificates issued by
clinicians as they often listed the cause of death as cardiac/cardiopulmonary arrest which simply
means that the heart and lungs have stopped which is true of all dead people
Violence and Trauma to the body are integral to forensic investigations
Trauma to the human body is a telltale sign of malintnent (mal=bad); but trauma to a body can be
caused by many circumstances – the forensic scientist has to be able to determine if the even was
accidental or malintent (remember the errors in diagnosis by Charles Smith)
So you must have a good understanding of the human body’s reaction to trauma
Anthropologists trained in fracture analysis contribute much of the interpretation of skeletal trauma
and have a direct bearing on the outcome of criminal investigations
Anthropologist must be able to comprehend the biomechanical properties of bone and be able to
interpret the bony responses in order to recreate traumatic events, many cases they can contribute
accurate descriptions of the circumstances surrounding the injury based on observations of the
injury pattern

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Lecture 1 2
The ability to distinguish fractures associated with high velocity ballistic trauma from fractures
created by lesser energy from blunt force trauma is crucial for narrowing the type of trauma and the
suspect weapon
oSame rules apply for sharp force injuries
oEach defect in bone and surrounding tissue contains signature information about the
traumatic event
The anthropologist must recognize and appreciate the significance of each feature in bone to
produce a credible and testable information for a medico legal case
Signature information – the bone’s response to trauma, the pattern of trauma on a bone that
would give you an idea about the trauma that occurred to the bone (typical patterns for specific
It is fundamental to understand that the appearance (morphology) of bony injuries reflects not only
the shape, area, mass, speed, and direction of the instrument applying the external force, but you
must also know about the intrinsic strength, anatomy, thickness, mineral content, and overall health
of the bone
The Principles of Trauma Analysis
1. Distinguishing from pathological, normal, and taphonomic processes – this requires extensive
knowledge of biomechanics of bone and how bone responds to pathological processes
oThe taphonomic processes that destroy bone are especially problematic as they mimic
pathological and malintent processes to the bone
oMust know about macro and micro structure of bone, growth and development,
biomineralization, biomechanics of bone
oThe outer periosteum protects the inner bone that has regenerative properties
oBone bruises are fixed by adding knew bone – this can give you evidence of trauma
oYou must know the areas of the skeleton that are most likely to end up with periosteal
new bone
oThe osteon/havarsian system can be used to determine histological age as the numbers
of these increases with age – you must also know the error rates involved
oBone plasticity – indenting the skull at a point of impact leads to outward bending at the
This is because the bone is naturally plastic (but this is difficult to explain to
The plasticity of younger bones is greater than that of adults
Artificial cranial deformation – wrapping the head to make the head grow
into a certain way (it looks flat and cone like), this can occur due to the plasticity of
oFundamentals of Fracture Repair – skeletal healing is a very dynamic process
Following a fracture, blood from the broken vessels in the periosteum and
marrow infiltrate the fracture site forming a blood clot
The blood clot is invaded by fibroblasts, connective tissue cells from the
periosteum; the fibroblasts produce and secrete collagen fibers to form a mass of
cells and fibers (callus) that bridges the broken ends
The callus is then invaded by osteoblasts from the periosteium and convert the
callus into bone which brings the ends together
Gradually the bone matures from the woven state to organized trabecular bone
and it could approach its original state depending on the severity of the break and age
of the person
There is typically a bump formed in the area that the fracture occurred
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