When Skulls Speak: Gathering Information From Skeletons

A lot of people are probably familiar with the sinister idiom “dead men tell no tales.” It’s hard not to agree with a sentiment so many fictional traitors and criminals have shared. After all, speech is not an ability people expect from the deceased. Some of them even believe that death can stop a body from testifying.But they’re dead wrong.

A living person’s skeleton can tell their doctor about their health or their licensed chiropractic physician about any problems in posture. The bones of the departed can say all these things, and more. The field of forensic pathology is dedicated to revealing the secrets skeletons can tell.

Unearthing Identity

The primary goal of forensic pathology is to determine the identity of a skeleton. Museums and archeological institutions send them on the field when a new dig unearths bone.  Law enforcement personnel may consult with a forensic pathologist because bones are all that remain of a probable victim of foul play. With their knowledge, they can find out if any discovered bones are even human. Once they establish that the remains are from a human, they can proceed to learning what the skeleton looked like in life.

Investigators might only find a few loose pieces of the skeleton. Time and terrain might crumble them into the earth, animals might take some away for meals, or the bones might have been scattered on purpose. Although this will make the forensic pathologist’s job difficult, they can still glean a lot of information if they have the right pieces.

Fleshing Out Bones

skeletal bone

Forensic pathologists can make sure of a body’s sex if the remains have a pelvis. The pelvis of a female human is wider, to support and cradle the birth canal during pregnancy.

The length of certain bones, like the femur, and the development of teeth can help experts establish the age of the skeleton at the time of death. Younger people typically have better teeth, and the teeth of the skulls of older skeletons may show more wear and tear.

Even if a lot of the skeleton can’t be located, a forensic pathologist can deduce the height of a body. They can calculate the height as long as they have a leg bone, like the tibia or the femur, or even just fragments of these bones.

A forensic artist can use an intact skull to reconstruct the facial features of the body prior to death. The sculptor places markers on specific locations on the skull. Then, they use layers of clay to simulate the flesh. Clues from the skull and other surviving pieces of bone can help the sculptor deduce the color of the body’s skin, hair, and eyes. Forensic artists can use clay, but computer software can achieve the same results.

Finally, damage to the bones can provide information on the cause of death. Broken bones can indicate blunt force trauma, while notches and nicks may be from puncture wounds. Forensic anthropologists can analyze the damaged areas to know if the wounds were from before or after death.

As grim as forensic anthropology may seem, it’s a very useful and helpful branch of knowledge. Experts can shed light on the lives of people from the past by understanding how they died. More importantly, they can use their knowledge to give the departed some justice.

The dead may no longer be able to speak. But thanks to forensic anthropology, they have plenty of tales to tell.

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