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Archaeology & Anthropology:Open Access

Scientific Advances in Forensic Archeology and Anthropology: A Review

Meiko Thonpson*

Southern University, USA

*Corresponding author:Meiko Thompson, Southern University at New Orleans, 6400 Press Drive, New Orleans, USA

Submission: September 15, 2023; Published: October 30, 2023

DOI: 10.31031/AAOA.2023.05.000621

ISSN: 2577-1949
Volume5 Issue1


Forensic archaeology and anthropology rely on scientific advances to enhance their methods and techniques in the field. Over the years, advancements in various scientific fields have greatly aided in the development and advancement of the fields. These advances include the use of DNA analysis, advanced imaging techniques, isotope analysis, GIS and dental analysis and have significantly improved the accuracy and reliability of results that are offered by forensic archaeology and anthropology. These advances, among other, have greatly improved the capabilities of forensic archaeologists and anthropologists enabling them to contribute more effectively to the examination, analysis, and identification of human remains, reconstruction of events, detailed information about injuries, pathologies, and the overall condition of the remains all aiding in the resolution of complex forensic cases.

Keywords:DNA; Isotopes (Dating); Imaging; Radar; Mass spectrometry; Dental analysis; GIS

Abbreviations:GPR: Ground-Penetrating Radar; MS: Mass Spectrometry; DMA: Dental Microwear Analysis; GIS: Geographic Information Systems; DMTA: Dental Microwear Texture Analysis


Forensic archeology and anthropology are crucial disciplines in the field of criminal investigation and identification of human remains. Forensic anthropology is the application of physical anthropology to legal processes, focusing on identifying and analyzing human skeletal remains to establish the identity of the deceased, determine the cause and manner of death, and provide evidence in legal proceedings. Forensic archeology, on the other hand, involves investigating and recovering buried human remains and associated evidence from crime scenes. Several scientific advances have significantly aided the advancement of forensic archaeology and anthropology. These advances have enhanced the ability to analyze and interpret human remains and crime scenes, leading to more accurate and efficient forensic investigations. These advances include DNA analysis, stable isotope analysis, advanced imaging techniques, Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR), Mass Spectrometry, Dental Microwear Analysis, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and Radiocarbon Dating.


DNA analysis is a valuable technique that can provide valuable information about an individual’s demographic characteristics, such as sex, ancestry, and genetic traits. This information can be crucial in identifying unknown individuals and establishing their identity. DNA analysis has become increasingly accessible and efficient in recent years, allowing forensic archaeologists and anthropologists to obtain reliable genetic information from ancient remains [1]. Advanced imaging techniques, such as CT scanning, have also revolutionized the field of forensic archaeology and anthropology. These tools allow researchers to create detailed three-dimensional images of skeletal remains, providing valuable information about trauma, pathology, and anatomical features [2]. The non-destructive nature of CT scanning allows for preserving skeletal remains while still extracting valuable information. Isotope analysis is another significant scientific advancement that has greatly aided in advancing forensic archaeology and anthropology. Combining 3D imaging and facial reconstruction offers a powerful tool for forensic anthropologists and archaeologists. These technologies assist in identifying contemporary unidentified remains and allow for the visualization of individuals from the past, bridging a gap between the present and history [2,3]. Ground Penetrating Radar allows forensic archaeologists to detect buried remains or objects without excavation, making it a non-invasive tool for crime scene investigations [4]. Mass Spectrometry is used to analyze bone chemistry, which can provide insights into the diet and migration of ancient populations. It is also used for age estimation. Dental Microwear Analysis is a method that examines microscopic wear patterns on teeth to infer diet, which can provide insights into an individual’s lifestyle and origin. GIS technology aids forensic archaeologists in analyzing spatial patterns, planning excavations, and visualizing crime scenes. Radiocarbon Dating, while traditionally used in archaeology for dating purposes, can also be applied in forensic cases to determine the age of remains.

DNA analysis

The development of DNA analysis techniques has revolutionized forensic anthropology. DNA profiling from human remains can help identify individuals even in severely degraded or fragmented states. The ability to extract and analyze DNA from skeletal remains has revolutionized forensic anthropology. This has allowed for the identification of remains even after many years. DNA analysis has become an indispensable tool in forensic investigations. It allows forensic anthropologists to determine the genetic profile of skeletal remains and compare them to reference samples to identify individuals [5]. This can be crucial in cases where the remains are highly degraded, or there are limited other means of identification. DNA analysis can also provide information about individual relationships, such as determining if two individuals are related or share a common ancestry [6].

Stable isotope analysis

Stable isotopes from bones and teeth can reveal information about an individual’s diet, geographical origins, and migrations [7]. Isotope analysis involves measuring the ratios of stable isotopes in bone and teeth, which can provide information about an individual’s diet, geographic origin, and migration patterns. By analyzing the isotopic composition of human remains, forensic archaeologists and anthropologists can gain insights into the individual’s dietary habits, such as whether they were primarily herbivorous or carnivorous [8]. Additionally, isotopic analysis can provide information about an individual’s geographic origin, as certain isotopic signatures are associated with specific regions [9]. These scientific advances have significantly improved the accuracy and reliability of forensic archaeology and anthropology by providing new tools and methodologies for examining and interpreting human remains.

3D imaging and facial reconstruction

In recent years, forensic anthropology and archaeology have witnessed significant advancements in 3D imaging and scanning techniques. These technological breakthroughs have revolutionized these disciplines by providing more accurate and efficient methods for analyzing and documenting skeletal remains and archaeological artifacts. 3D scanners and computer software allow for accurate facial reconstructions from skeletal remains. This helps in identification and public appeals. 3D imaging provides a digitized and highly accurate representation of an object in three dimensions. In forensics, this often involves creating a digital model of skulls or other skeletal remains [2]. Facial reconstruction is the method of recreating an individual’s facial features from their skull. The technique is used to visualize the appearance of unidentified remains [10]. 3D scanning techniques allow for the creation of accurate digital models of skeletal remains. These models can then be manipulated in software platforms, where tissue depth markers are applied, and the face is reconstructed digitally [11,12]. The goal of facial reconstruction in forensic contexts is usually to generate a recognizable likeness of an individual, which can be shared with the public or law enforcement to help identify unidentified remains [10]. Apart from forensic applications, 3D imaging, and facial reconstruction are also used in archaeology to visualize the faces of ancient individuals. This provides a tangible connection to the past and helps in understanding the human aspects of archaeological studies [13]. Combining 3D imaging and facial reconstruction offers a powerful tool for forensic anthropologists and archaeologists. These technologies assist in identifying contemporary unidentified remains and allow for the visualization of individuals from the past, bridging a gap between the present and history.

Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR)

GPR is a geophysical method that uses radar pulses to image the subsurface. It can detect and delineate buried structures, features, or objects, like graves, walls, foundations, and even individual artifacts. GPR allows forensic archaeologists to detect buried remains or objects without excavation, making it a noninvasive tool for crime scene investigations. GPR is extensively used in archaeology to detect buried archaeological features without excavation. This includes walls, ditches, buildings, and tombs. It helps archaeologists in planning excavations and understanding site geology. Ground penetrating radar survey is one method used in archaeological geophysics. GPR can detect and map subsurface archaeological artifacts, features, and patterning [4,14]. In forensic anthropology, GPR is mainly used to locate clandestine graves and recover human remains. It allows investigators to target their excavation efforts, making the recovery process quicker and more efficient. The presence of a buried body can disrupt the natural layering of the soil, creating an anomaly that GPR can detect. It is especially effective in detecting recently buried remains [15]. Timelapse GPR allows for repeated scans of the same area over time. In forensic anthropology, this is particularly useful in studying the decomposition process in experimental burials [16]. While GPR is a powerful tool, its effectiveness can be influenced by factors like soil type, moisture content, and depth of the target [17]. Understanding these limitations is essential to interpreting GPR data accurately.

Mass spectrometry

Mass Spectrometry (MS) is a powerful analytical technique that identifies the amount and type of chemicals present in a sample by measuring the mass-to-charge ratio of its ions. Over the years, its application has permeated various scientific disciplines, including forensic anthropology and archaeology [6]. It can be used to analyze bone chemistry, providing insights into the diet and migration of ancient populations. It is also used for age estimation. Mass spectrometry can help identify bone proteins, providing insights into diet, health, disease, and other aspects of an individual’s life [18]. Stable isotope ratios can provide information on diet, migration patterns, and geographical origins. MS has been used to analyze isotopes like carbon-13 and nitrogen-15 in bone collagen to derive this information [19]. MS can be used in archaeology to analyze pigments and dyes in ancient textiles, paintings, or ceramics, shedding light on ancient technologies and trade networks [20]. The application of mass spectrometry in forensic anthropology and archaeology provides deeper insights into past civilizations, their habits, practices, and conditions. As technology advances, it promises even more detailed reconstructions of past human life and activities.

Dental microwear analysis

Dental Microwear Analysis (DMA) is a method used to study microscopic wear patterns on the surfaces of teeth, specifically dental enamel. These patterns provide insights into the diet and behavior of both modern and ancient human and non-human populations. This technique has become an invaluable tool in both forensic anthropology and archaeology. The repetitive action of chewing generates dental microwear patterns and can vary based on the type of food consumed and how it is processed in the mouth [21]. For archaeologists, DMA provides insights into ancient civilizations’ dietary habits and food processing techniques. It can indicate whether a population primarily consumed tough or soft foods or had a diet rich in grains versus meat. This can be especially useful when skeletal remains do not provide enough information [22]. DMA can be used to determine the diet of unidentified remains, providing a profile that might help identify them. Dental microwear patterns can be used to compare dietary habits across different geographical or temporal populations, providing insights into changes in diet over time or between regions [23,24].

Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) provide a framework for gathering, managing, and analyzing spatially referenced data. In forensic anthropology and archaeology, GIS has proven invaluable for site analysis, visualization, and modeling. GIS technology aids forensic archaeologists in analyzing spatial patterns, planning excavations, and visualizing crime scenes. GIS is used for various purposes, from mapping locations where unidentified remains are found to visualizing patterns that might help identify potential grave sites [25,26]. Archaeologists use GIS to map and analyze archaeological sites, study ancient landscapes, understand settlement patterns, migration routes, and more. Using GIS, archaeologists can delineate the resources available to ancient communities within a given radius or “catchment” of a site [27]. Forensic anthropologists can use GIS for predictive modeling, determining likely locations of clandestine graves based on terrain, accessibility, and other factors [28]. GIS, combined with other data, like LiDAR or satellite imagery [29], can be used to reconstruct past landscapes, helping archaeologists understand the environmental context of ancient settlements.

Radiocarbon dating

Radiocarbon dating, or carbon-14 dating, is a widely used method for determining the age of an object containing organic material by measuring the amount of carbon-14 it contains. Radiocarbon dating relies on the decay of carbon-14, a radioactive isotope naturally present in the atmosphere and absorbed by living organisms. After death, this isotope begins to decay at a known rate, allowing for the estimation of the time since death [30]. While radiocarbon dating is primarily known for its use in archaeology, it also has applications in forensic science, especially in determining the age of older unidentified human remains. Radiocarbon dating has been pivotal in dating ancient artifacts and remains, helping archaeologists create timelines for ancient civilizations, understand migration patterns, and more [31].


These scientific advances, among others, have significantly enhanced the capabilities of forensic archaeologists and anthropologists, enabling them to contribute more effectively to identifying human remains, reconstructing events, and resolving complex forensic cases. The multidisciplinary approach to forensic investigation, combining DNA analysis, advanced imaging techniques, and isotope analysis, has dramatically improved the quality of information retrieved from ancient artifacts. Advancements in software and hardware continue to improve the accuracy and efficiency of 3D imaging and facial reconstruction. This includes the integration of deep learning algorithms and improved tissue depth data [32]. The evolution of GPR technology has seen improvements in antenna design, software algorithms, and data visualization tools. These advancements have improved resolution and depth penetration. New techniques, like Dental Microwear Texture Analysis (DMTA), utilize high-resolution 3D microscopy to provide a more detailed view of wear patterns. GIS, with its spatial analysis and visualization capabilities, has revolutionized how forensic anthropologists and archaeologists approach their research, offering tools to ask and answer complex questions about human behavior and history. Radiocarbon dating has significantly impacted archaeology and forensic anthropology by providing a reliable method to date organic materials. As techniques improve and with the integration of other dating methods, their applications continue to expand, offering more profound insights into human history and helping solve modern mysteries. These advancements have also improved the quality of information retrieved from ancient artifacts. These are just a selection of the numerous scientific advances that have propelled the fields of forensic archaeology and anthropology forward. We can expect even more sophisticated tools and techniques to emerge as technology evolves.


We would like to express our sincere gratitude to the following individuals and organizations for their contributions to this research and manuscript: We acknowledge the financial support provided by Title III for the Enhancing the forensic science program for successful student outcomes and effective academic results under the future act program. This support was instrumental in carrying out the research and analysis presented in this paper. We extend our appreciation to Blair Scott of Grambling State University for their valuable assistance in data collection, analysis, and interpretation. Their expertise and dedication greatly enhanced the quality of this research. We acknowledge the contributions of all individuals mentioned above. However, any errors or omissions are entirely our own.


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© 2023 Meiko Thonpson. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and build upon your work non-commercially.