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What is physical anthropological data?

This is the personal data that is recorded during a physical examination of skeletal remains that can describes the physical characteristics, like height, ancestry, age, left or right handedness, previous health conditions - all of which can assist in identification. An example of anthropological data that may assist in the identification of a soldier would be where a soldier has broken a bone in the past, which is documented in their medical records and evidence of the healed fracture can still be seen on the bone of the unknown soldier's remains.

How is anthropological data obtained?

Each soldier's medical records, enlistment documents and Red Cross documentation is reviewed during the investigation. This personal data is cross-referenced for identification clues. When human remains are located they are examined by a forensic anthropologist and odontologist, and each specialist produces a detailed report, outlining all potential characteristics which may assist in identification.

What is the difference between post-mortem, peri-mortem and ante-mortem data?

The term 'post-mortem' refers to 'after death' and this is generally the information which can be obtained from an examination of human remains; including physical characteristics like height, ancestry, age, left or right handedness and previous health conditions. The term 'peri-mortem' refers to 'at the time of death' and this might include information about cause of death such as wounds and other trauma. The term 'ante-mortem' refers to 'before death' and generally includes information collected during a soldier's life, including age, height, injuries, stature and ancestry. In the course of an investigation post, peri and anti-mortem data is compared to produce a conclusion as to the likelihood that the remains are a possible match for a missing Australian soldier.

What if remains of two individuals are co-mingled?

All recovered human remains undergo careful forensic examination by a forensic anthropologist and odontologist. When human remains are co-mingled these expert examinations will often be able to separate individuals. If one soldier was, for example, taller than the other, it is often possible to use bone measurements to separate the individuals. DNA may also be able to provide identification of the individuals.

What happens if you recover remains that cannot be identified?

The remains of unknown soldiers that are identified as Australian by forensic examinations and investigation are buried in an appropriate war cemetery with an inscription on the gravestone reading "An Australian Soldier", and an inscription that reads "Known unto God". All anthropological data is retained on our database in the hope that a family member will one day provide a family reference sample to enable identification; or that new information will come to light that will enable an identification. In such cases the headstone is replaced with one bearing the soldier's personal details.  

Last updated
22 September 2016
Army: Courage. Initiative. Respect. Teamwork.
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