Introduction to Forensic Anthropology

Home Education Online Courses in Anthropology Introduction to Forensic Anthropology
Course details

Start date
2025 TBC

8 x 1 hour classes

Price: £245

This short course will provide insights into the discipline of forensic anthropology and human identification.

Key words: Forensic Anthropology; Introduction; Skeletal Anatomy; Human Identification

The course will take participants through the basics of forensic anthropology and human identification. You will learn about the differences in the human skeleton that allow forensic anthropologists to provide the police with information that can help identify human remains or can assist the police by providing information that can direct their investigation. This will include the means by which an individual’s population affinity, biological sex, chronological age and stature can be estimated from the skeleton.

This course is aimed at those who have an interest in human identification. No prior knowledge is necessary, although some general awareness of biology would be beneficial. Due to the senstive subject matter, this course is only open to those over 18. If you are under 18 and interested in this course, please keep an eye out on our course page, as we will be developing an alternative course for this age range.

Tutor biography

Dr Catriona Davies is a senior lecturer in forensic anthropology and Chartered Forensic Anthropologist at the University of Dundee, Scotland. She has over a decade of experience in providing assistance to police forces throughout the UK in forensic anthropology and holds a BSc (hons) and PhD in Forensic Anthropology.

Course objective & structure

Participants will gain an awareness of human skeletal variation and how this variability can be used in the identification of human remains. The online synchronous content will be lecture/seminar style with discussion encouraged. The asynchronous content will include theoretical content and associated reading.


  • Class 1: What is forensic anthropology?
  • Class 2: Basics of skeletal biology
  • Class 3: Osteology
  • Class 4: Assessment of Ancestry
  • Class 5: Assessment of sex
  • Class 6: Assessment of age
  • Class 7: Assessment of stature
  • Class 8: What happens at scene?

This topic will cover a brief history of the discipline as it evolved from anatomy, physical anthropology and biological anthropology to become an independent discipline in the 1970s. It will then provide a contemporary perspective of forensic anthropology, focussing on the UK and the role of the RAI. The concepts of biological versus personal identity will also be included. The topic will culminate in a summary of the different areas within the remit of the forensic anthropologist acting as a lead in for the subsequent topics within the module.

This topic will introduce the participants to the essential concepts in skeletal biology including the material composition of bone, the processes involved in the maintenance of bone and the basics of ossification. This topic will form the basis for the osteology topic and will allow participants to gain an understanding of the typical processes and what can happen if these processes are interrupted or disrupted.

This topic will take the participants through the basic bone types, and then through the skeleton focussing on the adult. Attention will be paid to the morphology and the interaction between forces and the skeleton to produce the final shape. This topic will include the process of human/non-human identification and the estimation of the minimum number of individuals represented in a skeletal assemblage as pre-cursors to the subsequent topics which will consider the application of analyses to the skeleton for the estimation of a biological profile.

The topic of ancestry is necessarily one that will be included, however it will be relatively light touch due to the somewhat sensitive and contentious nature of the early work in this area and modern perceptions of ancestry versus ethnicity, race etc. It will be made clear that ancestry and race are not the same thing and that in forensic anthropology, no assertions or estimations are made in relation to the latter. The estimation of ancestry is based on the assessment of cranial morphologies and/or measurements to provide an estimation of the ancestral geographical origin of the individual’s lineage. Some of the common methods will be introduced and an overview of craniometrics will be included.

This topic will begin with a clear separation of sex and gender to establish the context in which forensic anthropology practices with an overview of sexual dimorphism. The topic will then focus on the pelvis and skull and the methods derived from these skeletal areas in addition to content relating to the importance in establishing the sex of a deceased individual before progressing to further analyses.

This topic will be divided into two parts: Age estimation in juveniles and age estimation in adults. This will allow participants to appreciate the different approaches needed in each case. Some examples of methods will be provided and discussed for each. The topic will be concluded by some discussion on the importance of accuracy and precision in age estimation and the balance that must be struck between these in any method being applied.

The biological profile topics will conclude with the topic on stature estimation. The different approaches that can be used will be introduced, namely the anatomical and mathematical approaches. If time allows, some discussion of the limitations imposed by incomplete remains will be included. The topic will be finalised by a concluding overview of the biological profile elements that have been discussed and revisiting the biological identity concept introduced at the beginning of the programme.

This topic will take the participants through the actions of a forensic anthropologist in a scene context, from initial contact to recovery and packaging of the remains. A fabricated context and scene will be used as an exemplar and will form the basis of the discussion. This will allow participants to ask questions about the programme as whole and consider some of the limitations that may be placed on the work of the anthropologist by the scene and the degree of recovery of remains.