The examination of human skeletal remains: findings from a quality assurance programme as part of professional development in Australia and New Zealand

Soren Blau, David Kang, Gregory Markowsky, Samantha Rowbotham

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Continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities in physical anthropology are limited in Australia and New Zealand. To augment this shortfall and identify individual and collective strengths and weaknesses in practice, a quality assurance (QA) programme was developed for professionals and students involved in the analysis of human skeletal remains from archaeological, historical and/or medico-legal contexts. Using photographs and post-mortem computed tomography scans of skeletal remains, 83 questions pertaining to differentiating human from non-human and identifying specific skeletal elements; estimating age-at-death, sex and ancestry, and interpreting skeletal defects were provided to the participants. Descriptive statistics were employed to identify which areas of skeletal analysis require improvement and to examine the extent to which anthropologists were accurate depending on their occupation, qualifications, experience with skeletal material, sex and age. Only 30 participated in the QA; a 24% response rate. Participants were relatively proficient at determining human from non-human and identifying specific bones, however, were only moderately proficient in estimating a biological profile and very poor at interpreting skeletal defects. Service providers and older participants were significantly more proficient across all question types. The QA programme provided insights into where additional training is required and lays the foundation for further CPD activities.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
JournalAustralian Journal of Forensic Sciences
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • continuing professional development
  • Human skeletal analysis
  • physical anthropology
  • quality assurance

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