Forensic anthropology is the application of the science of physical or biological anthropology to the medico-legal process.
When unidentified human remains are discovered, our forensic anthropologists employ the principles of skeletal growth, development, degeneration and variation in order to construct a biological profile of the individual.
The biological profile can provide a determination of ancestry, sex, age, stature, and an assessment of skeletal anomalies, gross bone pathologies and any pre-existing ante-, peri- and post-mortem trauma.
The involvement of the forensic anthropologist in a criminal investigation is particularly important in cases where remains are severely decomposed, skeletonised, burnt, fragmented or commingled. We can also assist in the estimation of post-mortem interval and the identification of post-mortem processes that may have affected or modified the remains and the environment.
In addition, our forensic anthropologists can assist in cases where age estimation of living individuals is required.
Forensic archaeology applies archaeological methods and theory to the resolution of medico-legal issues.
The forensic archaeologist is a vital component in criminal investigations that require search, location and recovery of buried human remains, surface depositions of human remains, or items of forensic evidence (drugs, guns, explosives caches).
Our forensic archaeologists can provide information on how a grave may have been dug, the possible circumstances surrounding the deposition of human remains and identify any post-depositional disturbances or events that may have subsequently affected the crime scene.
Archaeological recording techniques can also provide fast and accurate data and be used to assist in the visual reconstruction of the scene and is particularly useful where body parts and evidence (ballistics, fragments of explosive devices, items of forensic evidence) are spread over a wide area.
Our forensic archaeologists can also assist with the interpretation of aerial photographs, ordnance survey and geological maps and identify relevant areas of interest and assist with the preparation of relevant search strategies.
Using a variety of techniques which can include archaeological field craft, geophysical survey, victim recovery dogs and traditional police search methods, we can also produce strategy and reconnaissance reports that can identify and target areas for further investigation.
We advocate an integrated approach using both a forensic archaeologist and an anthropologist at the crime scene. Used together, these scientists can rapidly maximize the recording and interpretation of the scene, the excavation and recovery of human remains, the identification and documentation of post-mortem modifications and processes and undertake specific targeting and sampling of forensic ecology evidence types.
Forensic botany is the application of plant sciences to criminal investigations. Botanical analysis is primarily concerned with comparing a variety of plant trace evidence types that may have been transferred from a scene to a person or an object - or vice versa - and can be vital in proving or excluding contact between a suspect and a scene.
The characterisation of the vegetation at a crime scene can be used to link pertinent places such as body deposition and contact sites and other scenes of interest. It can also be used to link suspects and victims with objects such as vehicles, implements and clothing.
As different plants are known to colonise the area over a buried body through time, knowledge of plant colonisation and species succession patterns in an area of interest can also assist in the location of clandestine graves.
In conjunction with other specialists, our scientists can also assist in cases where the identification of the remains of plant-based foods in the human digestive tract is required.
Diatoms are microscopic algae found in fresh and salt water and moist terrestrial environments. They are diverse in their form, shape and structure and can be identified with precision and can be an important analytical tool within a criminal investigation.
Diatom analysis is most often used in cases involving drowning or prolonged submersion in water or when proof of contact with water is required.
Comparison of diatom species, distribution and abundance produces a unique environmental profile and provides information on habitat, seasonality and geographical location. This can assist with localizing and identifying potential sites of drowning or, conversely, can be used to exclude sites where bodies have been recovered.
Forensic entomology is the application and analysis of insect and other arthropod biology to criminal investigations.
When collected from human remains and scenes of crime, insects and other arthropods can be an effective tool in determining post mortem interval and establishing whether a body may been disturbed, concealed or moved after death.
In addition, entomological evidence can assist in the detection of drugs, toxins and other chemicals. DNA can also be extracted from the crop (fore-gut) of a maggot or a beetle to determine its food source and therefore be a powerful analytical tool in 'no body' murders.
Forensic entomology can also be utilised in cases of neglect, wound myiasis (infestation of a living human or an animal by insects feeding on body tissues), animal welfare and wildlife crime, and food and hygiene infestation investigations.
Palynology involves the study and identification of many classes of organic-walled microfossils, with the most important being pollen and plant and fungal spores.
Palynological assemblages recovered from crime scenes can be compared with those from exhibits to determine whether they have come from the same location, identify the season that this contact may have occurred, and the activity that may have led to contact or deposition (e.g. movement of a body).
Palynological analysis can provide information on the location of clandestine graves, estimation of the timing of body deposition, differentiate between deposition and murder sites, and also be used to exclude areas of interest.
Soil science uses geology, soil, rock and other particulates to act as a trace evidence type.
The diversity and almost limitless number of soils and particulate materials contain great variations in shape, size, colour, grain distribution, material type and mineralogy. Soil profiling and analysis can provide intelligence, insight and discriminating evidence of contact between a person and a location or a crime scene.
Soil evidence can be used to link pertinent places with deposition and contact sites and other scenes of interest, to associate potential suspects with victims, and can also assist in the search and location of bodies.
These forensic ecology-based evidence types continue to play an increasingly significant role in criminal investigations and are now well-established and routinely used in the criminal investigations.
Stable isotope analysis can provide unique information on an individual's provenance, diet and geographical origins.
Particular isotopes can be analysed in a variety of human body tissues in order to establish geographical location and dietary composition through infancy, adolescence and adulthood and an individual’s more recent life history, diet and geography. It can also be a powerful tool when the provenance and comparison of evidence types (e.g. explosives, drugs, trace evidence) from a crime scene is required.
Radiocarbon dating can be particularly useful in establishing the age of a sample rich in carbon, for example: bone, hair, blood residue, textiles and fabrics, wood, charcoal, plant fibres and pollen. Radiocarbon dating is most frequently used to determine whether human remains or items of forensic evidence are of archaeological or forensic significance.