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Forensic Anthropology Research Group

Forensic Anthropology is the application of physical anthropology techniques to criminal cases. Forensic anthropologists use osteological analyses to build a profile of unknown human remains to aid identification, by estimating the age at death, biological sex, stature and ethnic ancestry of the individuals represented. This analysis can be of great value to criminal investigations, particularly in situations where identification by other means such as fingerprint or DNA matching is rendered impossible; for example, where the human remains have been compromised due to fragmentation, exposure to extreme heat, decomposition, skeletonisation or burial.

The Forensic Anthropology Research Group (FARGo) specialises in the anthropological assessment of human and faunal skeletonised remains, for police forces, other law enforcement agencies and archaeological units. Services include the identification of unknown skeletal elements, the distinction between human and animal remains, estimation of chronological age, biological sex, stature and ethnic ancestry, as well as analysis of any trauma or pathology exhibited by unknown human remains.

FARGo is internationally-renowned for cutting-edge research in forensic taphonomy and decomposition. Taphonomy is the study of the processes of decomposition of cadavers and associated materials in different environments, which aids the estimation of post-mortem interval in criminal cases. FARGo researchers are involved in a wide range of projects centred on cadaver decomposition, including the identification of the gaseous products of decomposition in terrestrial and underwater deposition environments, and the efficiency of Human Remains Detection dogs at detecting these volatile organic compounds. This work is undertaken in association with several UK police forces and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. FARGo researchers are also undertaking research into soil water conductivity and post-burial interval estimation; location of clandestine graves through detection of amino acids; the leaching of drugs into soil; the effect of decomposition on the development of fingerprints from skin; and many others areas.

FARGo has access to a well-equipped laboratories and equipment at the University of Huddersfield such as a Keyence 3D microscope, a microCT scanner, FTIR, GCMS and HPLCMS, UPLC-Q-TOF-MS, state-of-the-art DNA laboratories, including an ancient DNA facility, and an entomology laboratory (FLEA). FARGo has access to HuddersfFIELD, a unique outdoor taphonomy facility for decomposition, archaeology, geological and environmental research..

The Forensic Anthropology Research Group (FARGo) is run by Dr Anna Williams and is composed of academics from the School of Applied Sciences, PhD, MSc, undergraduate and placement students. FARGo encourages multi-disciplinary collaboration between the University of Huddersfield and other universities in the UK and abroad, and is happy to receive applications for PhD students or Research Experience Year students (interns).

Current projects

  • Identiification of VOCs from cadaveric remains as a function of time
  • Identification of VOCs from blood as a function of time
  • Effect of water submersion on skin colour
  • Ninhydrin testing for amino acids in soils from known grave sites
  • Use of ninhydrin tests for amino acids from soil surrounding a cadaver
  • Identification of bacterial species which colonise a decomposing cadaver
  • Comparison of modern dental eruption data with exisitng age estimation techniques (Citizen Science project)
Last updated Monday 16 February 2015
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