In considering professional associations within subfields of biological anthropology a number of organizations provided professional structure and credentialing for individuals practicing in this field. Rather than examining the credentialing aspect of professional groups, I attempted to find an organization that embodied research and education to advance knowledge gained over time. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) supports these goals and is a multidisciplinary organization that uses scientific practice to support the legal system. The mission of the academy listed on its website is to “promote professionalism, integrity, competency, education, foster research, improve practice, and encourage collaboration in the forensic sciences.” This organization appears to be dedicated to advancing this subfield of anthropology that highlights an important aspect of science interacting with our government and its judicial system.
With these all-encompassing objectives, the AAFS has existed since 1948 and has over 7,000 members from the U.S., Canada, and 70 more countries. They publish the Journal of Forensic Sciences, organize scientific meetings and webinars, and approve and publish scientific papers and research findings. In order for an organization to provide valid professional advice it must deliver unbiased information to its members and the public at large in order for it to pass any scrutiny that may arise during legal proceedings. Forensic Anthropology provides expert testimony for public and private proceedings that affect people in many different ways.
Although anthropology is a very broad field encompassing the study of our culture and its interaction with our history, forensic anthropology provides important ways for scientists to use their expertise to clarify questions for our society on a daily basis. In crime scenes that are evident throughout the world on news programs, forensic evidence must be collected, analyzed, and documented with great care. It is amazing that simple skeletal remains can be recovered in such a way so as to recreate the person’s identity and specific issues surrounding their death with a minimal volume of material. For these types of crimes the burden of proof in court requires an immense amount of evidence for convictions beyond a reasonable doubt. The AAFS helps to update anthropologists who typically have a PhD with extensive knowledge of osteology and anatomy. It appears as though students who anticipate entering the field also have a strong background in archeology. Most forensic anthropologists consult for medical examiners or coroners who take responsibility for researching untoward deaths.
Forensic Anthropology takes place in the field, laboratory, and courtroom. The process of identifying evidence and analyzing scant amounts of data is a tedious process that involves using inferences to support probable facts. They may find a mandible with only three teeth remaining, a small amount of microscopic fibers, a drop of blood containing a DNA profile, a handgun possibly having fired a bullet removed from a victim’s skull, a tire track from a muddy yard, or a chemical poison requiring gas chromatography. The potential types of evidence are endless, but each can make the difference in solving a Sherlock Holmes mystery.
As anthropology is the study of humans, forensic anthropology supplies a defined subset of human existence. The analysis of information about a human’s death is tremendously important when issues of criminal activity are in question or simply to provide closure during a time of family loss. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences supports its members’ needs for education and dissemination of research information that is critical to maintain the highest standards of professional activities. Forensics provides a meaningful bridge between science and the legal system.