The American Board of Forensic Anthropology Turns 40 Historical Perspectives and Current Trends in Certification for Forensic Anthropology

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Eric J. Bartelink
Donna C. Boyd
Diane L. France
James T. Pokines
Debra Prince-Zinni


The professionalization of forensic anthropology in North America began with the establishment of the Physical Anthropology section (now Anthropology Section) of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) in 1972 and the development of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology (ABFA) board certification program in 1977–78. This review first outlines the history of ABFA board certification, then discusses temporal trends among ABFA diplomate recipients, ABFA leadership, and ABFA qualification requirements (i.e., examination structure and content). The data reveal that ABFA demographic and qualification developments mirror academic trends in the discipline over the past four decades. Our assessment indicates substantial growth of the ABFA from the year 2000 to present, a shorter waiting period between receipt of the PhD and board certification, and a significant shift toward a membership and leadership reflective of a younger cohort with greater representation by women. Changes in ABFA qualifications, as revealed by an exam content review over this period, reflect many of the academic trends we have seen in our discipline as a whole, including greater specialization, reliance on technological advancements, recognition of population variability, and the need to accurately measure and mitigate error and bias. With the increased availability of DNA analysis, biological profile research and expertise may be giving way to other specializations within forensic anthropology, including bone morphology, skeletal growth and development, fracture biomechanics, fracture healing, and taphonomy, including time since death estimation.

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