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"An anthropologist has expertise in dealing with bone that even a pathologist does not have. A pathologist's main role is determining the cause of death, and the anthropologist does not do that. But we can give a lot of information as to what might have been contributing factors to the cause of death, and we are huge contributors to the process of identifying remains. We work with other experts in forensic identification, such as forensic odontologists and DNA analysts."

--Physical Anthropologist Michael Billinger

Michael Billinger is a physical anthropologist whose particular area of expertise is the human skull. "My research deals with variation in the size and shape of the skull particularly as it applies to ethnicity or what are traditionally called 'racial categories'. There's a huge range of variation that exists in the skull. The mid-face in particular is very diagnostic of the person's ancestral background ... I strongly believe that only in having expertise in the actual variation that exists in human skeletal populations can we be very successful in identifying individuals and how the individual fits into on of those specific ethnic populations."

As a physical anthropologist working on a forensic case, Billinger would use his expertise with bones to be able to build a biological profile of a person, including age, sex, stature, and ethnicity. "I gather their osteobiographical information - osteobiography means the life history as it is recorded in bone."

There are many different kinds of anthropologists - anthropology is broken into linguistics, cultural anthropology, archaeology, and physical anthropology. "In the Canadian context there are generally very few people who would consider themselves forensic anthropologists. They are physical anthropologists who do consulting work for forensic purposes. It's a critical point to distinguish between the two."

Like forensic odontology, there just isn't the workload for physical anthropologists to work full time as forensic anthropologists. "It's very fulfilling to take the skills gained through my education, through many years of research, and apply it to something that's practical, that's important to the community."

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