LABANOF - Anthropological and Odontological Lab of the State University of Milan


Il Laboratorio di Antropologia e Odontologia Forense

From 1995 the Laboratory has promoted and carried out anthropological studies in archaeological, forensic and humanitarian contexts.

For the duration of its existence LabAnOF has played a triple role involving scientific research, university teaching and technical consultancy in a wide variety of sectors that deal with investigations regarding human remains such as: victim identification, the study and interpretation of marks left by inflicted violence or offence to the human body in both living and deceased victims and the study of ancient population’s demographics.

LabAnOF’s offices are located in the heart of Città Studi (Milan’s academic district) in via Mangiagalli, 37 and are made up of a series of rooms situated on the department’s ground and underground floors. Positioned adjacent to the city’s municipal morgue, these spaces house the facilities that allow for the treatment of humans remains and their macroscopic, microscopic and radiological examination. At the same address, but in a specifically dedicated space, a centre for the examination of living victims is also housed, whereas the nearby ex-faculty of Veterinary Medicine presently houses the Laboratory’s anthropological collection, “CAL” (Collezione antropologica LabAnOF). In a different and more central part of town LabAnOF has organised a small work space in the crypt of Ca’ Granda at the Policlinico’s central archive where the laboratory experts are involved in the analysis of historical remains that have been deposited in this same location over, at least the last 400 years. Finally, in the municipal centre of via Zendrini, an anthropological and legal medicine structure for foreign unaccompanied minors has recently been set up.

With the aim of providing a variety of activities such as: scientific research, university lecturing and courses for external groups, such as law enforcement agencies, humanitarian agencies and professionals that work in the cultural heritage sector, the Laboratory hosts a number of specialists amongst its full-time personnel that range from anthropologists, odontologists, pathologists, biologists, archaeologists and naturalists as well as contractors, students, post graduate students and post doctorate collaborators. The same personnel also provide technical consultancy for agencies that may be involved in investigations regarding human remains and the living such as, victim identification, torture victim examination and age evaluation of foreign unaccompanied minors. Finally the laboratory takes an active part in divulging information concerning the role that the above-mentioned specialists can play in historical and archaeological investigations, judicial investigations and in the protection of human rights. In addition to the above mentioned specialists the Laboratory can count on a series of inter-departmental agreements and collaborations with professionals and academics from a wide variety of disciplines, such as engineers, radiologists, entomologists, botanists, geologists, chemists, historians, archaeologists, cultural anthropologists, psychologists, and doctors from other medical areas. These are all experts that can contribute in a highly specialised manner to investigations that involve forensic sciences, archaeology and humanitarian assistance.

In forensic and criminalistic scenarios, in which the courts expect an ever increasing level of expertise in a variety of fields, LabAnOF is capable of providing qualified personnel that specialise in the detection and recovery of concealed human remains, complex judicial inspections, biological profile determination, in particular post mortem interval; sex; age; ancestry; identification of preexisting pathologies; facial reconstruction. LabAnOF’s experts are also often called upon to provide victim identification, particularly in cases regarding deceased John or Jane Does; victim identification management, in the case of mass disasters; the determination of a victim’s cause and manner of death, also in cases regarding skeletal, incinerated or decomposing remains; 3D reconstruction of crime scene dynamics, identification of possible perpetrators captured on CCTV or still images; biological age determination of living subjects, in cases regarding imputability of suspects or adoption processes; photographic and video analysis in cases involving possible victims of child pornography. During its 25 year experience LabAnOF has participated in hundreds of investigations on behalf of Italian judicial offices throughout the country and abroad, in particular Italian Switzerland, France and the UK. Moreover, LabAnOF carries out and promotes development and research in disciplines that are in any way related to the treatment of human remains, resulting in over 200 peer reviewed publications in the major national and international dedicated journals. Over the years LabAnOF, through a wide range of specialised training courses for external specialists, has hosted hundreds of professionals from pertinent fields, students, law enforcement representatives and specialists from a variety of national and international aid agencies, for example the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Since its first activities in 1995 the Laboratory has always been particularly sensitive to the problem of victim identification. From 2007, the year in which the Office of the Extraordinary Commissioner of the government for Missing Persons (UCPS) was established the Laboratory has played an active role in its foundation through collaboration in the creation of the RISC recording protocols (the national database for missing persons and the unidentified deceased). In 2015 the Laboratory was the first entity to have subscribed to a memorandum of understanding with the prosecutors offices of Milan, Busto Arsizio, Lodi and Pavia, the Prefecture of Milan, Regione Lombardia, ANCI (National association of Italian municipalities), the Municipality of Milan and the UCPS for the recording of unidentified corpses recovered within the Lombardy territory. Successively and yet again on behalf of the UCPS, LabAnOF started working on a large project that is still on-going today and is aimed at identifying migrant victims lost at sea during their crossing of the Mediterranean. In particular the Laboratory’s activity in the project regards the disasters that took place on the 3rd of October 2013 and the 18th of April 2015. LabAnOF also carries out a social service that is aimed at managing the storage of data regarding unidentified corpses, mainly in the territory of Milan and its surrounding province. For this purpose, the Laboratory manages a dedicated internet site for the on-line publication of “identikits” belonging to fortuitously recovered human remains, providing data regarding a given subject’s biological profile and other elements useful to the identification of specific individuals. For many years now the Laboratory has collaborated with the popular television show “Chi l’ha Visto”, with the “Doe network”, an American association that deals with unidentified corpses and with the “Associazione Penelope”, an Italian association engaged in the discovery of the whereabouts of missing persons. In regards to the identification of migrant victims at sea, LabAnOF closely collaborates with the Fondazione Isacchi Samaja Onlus.

Thanks to a partnership with the Municipality of Milan, the Laboratory has recently expanded its humanitarian activities by carrying out medical and anthropological enquiries as to the state of living migrant subjects. In particular, this regards the medical examination of asylum seekers for the identification and description of possible marks of torture that may have been inflicted prior to arrival and the anthropological examination of suspected unaccompanied minors for age evaluation, in such a way as to guarantee the enhanced protection that is offered by law to this specific group of subjects.

In an archaeological context, the Laboratory deals with the anthropological and paleopathological study of human remains dating to ancient and historical periods. This is achieved through the reconstruction of biological profiles (sex, age, ethnicity, height, pathologies, and traumatic injuries), facial reconstructions, museological installations, demographic analysis and the physical anthropological study of historical figures such as saints and relics. Thanks to an agreement with the Soprintendenze Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio della Lombardia, through a project called MI-ANTROPO, it has been possible to reconstruct lifestyles and health of Lombardy’s and in particolar, Milan’s inhabitants over a time-span of 2000 years. Given this preamble and thanks to its academic nature the Laboratory, through the promotion of collaboration with the public sector, has created its very own anthropological collection known as CAL (Collezione Antropologica LabAnOF).

Staying true to its three-faceted spirit of archaeological, forensic and humanitarian investigation, LabAnOF is dedicated to driving research, education and spreading its scientific and human heritage that, thanks to the work of the laboratory's staff, is bieng developed on a daily basis.

For a deeper and more defined experience of LabAnOF’s activities, one can consult the single specific pages within this site. For a broader and more public friendly description of what labAnOF and its components have experienced and accomplished over the last 25 years, one can read a series of books that describe many of the cases, situations and characters that make up the Laboratory’s history, such as: Morti Senza Nome (2005), Turno di Notte (2007), Certezze Provvisorie (2009), all edited by Mondadori; and Crimini e Farfalle (2006), Naufraghi Senza Volto (2018) and Corpi, Scheletri e crimini - Le Storie del Labanof, all edited by Cortina Editore.