Traceology, criminalistics, and forensic science

Ralph R. Ristenbatt, Jack Hietpas, Peter R. De Forest, Pierre A. Margot

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


There is a serious issue within the forensic science community, which even extends outside of the field. The role of the scientist in the investigation of crime has been increasingly confined to the laboratory, which has been accompanied by the conflation of the terms forensic science and criminalistics. This unfortunate situation has been festering for years. To make matters worse, the era of the proactive, problem-defining, criminalist (generalist) is waning, and possibly over. Present-day “criminalists” are treated as little more than reactive, protocol-constrained, laboratory technicians, with few, if any, consequential crime scene roles. In most cases, these “criminalists” merely respond to routine requests from prosecutors and police. The absence of science at the front end of forensic investigations, i.e., the scene, has resulted in biased, ineffective, inefficient, and/or erroneous outcomes with immediate and long-term societal impacts. To disentangle this imbroglio, we propose the use of another term, traceology, which has seen limited use worldwide except in the field of archaeology. With respect to criminalistics, this term has been previously proposed by Margot (20–21). Traceology is an historical science, dealing with the examination, analysis, and scientific interpretation of event traces (signs or remnants) of earlier activities. In this commentary, we define and redefine familiar, but ambiguous, terms and concepts with the hope of recapturing the essence of criminalistics (32), which we suggest is best termed traceology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)28-32
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Forensic Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Genetics


Dive into the research topics of 'Traceology, criminalistics, and forensic science'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this