Description   |   Instructor  |  Reading  |  Schedule  |  Field Trip  |  Assessment   | Blackboard


Forensic Anthropology: Human Remains and the Law (GNEL 670)

Forensic anthropology is the medicolegal application of biological anthropological methods, generally pertaining to the identification of human remains. When badly decomposed, burned, and skeletonized remains are discovered, a forensic anthropologist is usually called in by law enforcement officials to help establish identity and aid in ascertaining time and manner of death. Forensic anthropologists maintain a skill set different from that of the average forensic pathologist, one that cross-cuts human osteology, archaeology, and comparative vertebrate anatomy.

 The course begins with an overview of the history of forensic anthropology and a review of human osteology, in particular, we focus on the growth, structure, and histology of the human skeleton.  Next, we consider the methods used by forensic anthropologists to aid in personal identification -- the determination of age, sex, stature, and ancestry, and the identification of occupational markers, evidence of medical history, and indications of perimortem trauma.  The role of the forensic anthropologist in the recovery of remains and crime scene investigation are explored, and we examine the role of the specialists with whom they interact, such as crime investigators, forensic odontologists, forensic entomologists, and forensics pathologists. Lastly, we consider the role of forensic anthropologist as expert witness and the laws pertaining to the treatment of human remains.


Jolee West, Ph.D.
170 Science Library

Required Reading

  • Steven Byers, Introduction to Forensic Anthropology, Allyn & Bacon,

Suggested Authors for Forensic Fiction (Leisure Reading)

  • Kathy Reichs (her protagonist, Temperance Brennan, is a forensic anthropologist)
  • Aaron Elkins (his protagonist, Gideon Oliver, is a Professor of Biological Anthropology)
  • Iris Johansen (her protagonist, Eve Duncan, is a forensic sculptor; her work  is heavy on the romance)
  • Michael Ondaatje (specifically, Anil's Ghost : A Novel, in which the protagonist is a forensic anthropologist)

Field Trip

In a tour of the State of Connecticut Forensic Science Laboratory in Meriden, we will get a personal introduction to people on the job and the practices they use to solve Connecticut crimes.

The date and time of this trip will be determined after class meets so as to arrange the most convenient time for all enrolled.


Students will be evaluated based on classroom discussion/participation (10%), graded case-oriented analyses (30%), and a research paper concerning a topic relevant to this course.

The paper should be problem-oriented. I will provide a list of possible paper topics, or help you define your own, based on your personal interests. The paper assignment is broken down into three separately graded assignments:

  1. The formulation of the paper topic and argument, a rough outline, and a list of at least 5 references. (10%)
  2. The not-so-rough draft.  Treat this draft as though it's what you would hand in as a final draft. It should be very complete. (20%)
  3. The final draft (submitted paper). (30%)


We will be using Blackboard, the online course management system for announcements, communications, document distribution (background info, lectures, news stories), and assignment submission. You can log into Blackboard from your Student Portfolio . You MUST know your Wesleyan email username and password to get into your Portfolio.

If the Portfolio is ever down, you can still access Blackboard by going to