The role of forensic anthropology in disaster victim identification

Published on 4 October 2018

A recently published a review paper covering the role of forensic anthropology in disaster victim identification (DVI).

On this page

Dr Lucina Hackman from the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science has recently published a review paper covering the role of forensic anthropology in disaster victim identification (DVI) and how recent operations have provided valuable lessons to the process.

The review was published in Forensic Sciences Research on 2 Oct. It was written with colleagues at the Netherlands Forensic Institute, The Department of Forensic Services in Australia and the Institute of Legal Medicine in Paris and is freely available online.

Identification of victims in a mass fatality scenario is an important mark of respect for the deceased and for surviving family and friends. Although knowledge from forensic anthropology has been used for over a century, recently there has been an increasing role for forensic anthropologists as part of the identification process at disaster sites.

Forensic anthropologists work with a team of forensic specialists which can include, forensic pathologists, forensic orthodontists, radiologists, fingerprint examiners, molecular biologists, mortuary technicians and photographers. They aid identification at the disaster site, particularly in the case of identifying human remains so they can be collected and recorded. Forensic Anthropologists also aid the process in the mortuary where they support the investigation with analysis of material, determine if remains are human or non-human and providing biological profiles – estimation of ancestry, sex, age and stature. They also assist in reconstructing the manner of death and although DVI is generally associated with the identification of the deceased, the identification of survivors may also be required in the case of unconscious individuals at disaster scenes.

The paper calls for training and clear accreditation for forensic anthropologists in DVI, as many undergraduate courses do not cover this area in enough detail or fully equip forensic anthropologists with the skills to be part of a mass fatality scenario team.

The use of statistical techniques and Bayes’ theorem, which provides a way to revise existing predictions or theories given new or additional evidence in forensic anthropological identification can reduce subjectivity and bias within a forensic anthropological assessment.

Dr Hackman was a member of the team that worked with the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland to develop a certification process for Forensic Anthropology. She was also lead in the development of a Code of Practice for Forensic Anthropology. 

To read, the full review is available at Taylor & Francis Online

Story category Research