Humanitarian action in academic institutions: A case study in the ethical stewardship of unidentified forensic cases




Goldstein, Justin
Moe, Mariah
Wiedenmeyer, Emilie
Banks, Petra
Mavroudas, Sophia
Hamilton, Michelle D.

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Taylor & Francis


Forensic anthropologists are often responsible for the management of long-term unidentified individuals. Others have contextualised these decedents—many of whom likely belonged to socially, politically, and/or economically marginalised groups in life—as part of a larger identification crisis in the United States. However, there has been little discussion surrounding how this humanitarian crisis has manifested in academic institutions, where anthropologists often provide medicolegal consultation and act as long-term stewards of the unidentified. The Identification & Repatriation Initiative was created at the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University (FACTS) to recognise and investigate unidentified human remains in long-term storage. Our paper outlines common challenges that were encountered during our initial reassessment of unidentified cases at FACTS, emphasising the detrimental impacts of inconsistent procedures, loss of context, and case fatigue. It is likely that other academic institutions face similar challenges, and by highlighting these issues we hope to help initiate a larger conversation concerning ethical stewardship of human remains in these settings. By incorporating humanitarian perspectives into forensic casework, anthropologists in academia can better advocate for the long-term unidentified.



forensic anthropology, forensic sciences, unidentified persons, long-term unidentified, identification, academic institutions, standardization, humanitarian, action, Anthropology


Goldstein, J. Z., Moe, M. E., Wiedenmeyer, E. L., Banks, P. M., Mavroudas, S. R., & Hamilton, M. D. (2022) Humanitarian action in academic institutions: A case study in the ethical stewardship of unidentified forensic cases. Forensic Sciences Research, pp. 1-8.


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