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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Analyzing Human Bones

     In examining the skeletal remains of a suspected murder victim, a county coroner who is relatively unfamiliar with skeletal anatomy might think he has found cut marks on the bones. He reports them to the police investigators as coming from a knife. A forensic anthropologist who has seen a lot of these cases before is able to interpret the marks differently, and recognizes them as the tooth marks of a scavenging carnivore. The distinctions are extremely fine, but tell that to a presumably innocent man the police are about to charge with murder….

     Experienced forensic anthropologists have examined thousands of bones from all time periods and from all over the world, and are beneficiaries of tens of thousands of examinations made by others in the field. They know what happens to a skeleton after the passage of a month, a decade, a century, two thousand years. They know what happens when a skeleton is left on the prairie after an Indian massacre and buried years later by a passer-by. They can distinguish between evidence of murder and the results of a dog passing by and helping himself….

Dr. Douglas Ubelaker and Henry Scammell, Bones, 1992      

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