NEW YORK (AP) _ Harry Lionel Shapiro, a leading anthropologist and former curator of physical anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History, has died at age 87.

Shapiro died Sunday in Lenox Hill Hospital of undisclosed causes, according to a museum press release.

His research during the 1940s laid the foundation for forensic anthropology, which has since become a highly refined science practiced by medical examiners throughout the United States.

As a consultant to the American Graves Registration Command, Shapiro went to Europe in 1946 to set up a method for identifying unknown dead. This method served as the basis for subsequent identification work in all theaters of war.

Shapiro frequently assisted the New York City medical examiner's office in identifying human remains found in homicide cases.

During the 1970s, Shapiro was also involved in tracking down the fossil remains of the extinct Peking Man, which provided unusually comprehensive evidence of an early stage of human evolution.

Born in Boston, Shapiro earned a bachelor's degree, a master's degree and a Ph.D. from Harvard University, becoming one of the first Americans to get a doctorate in physical anthropology.

His association with the American Museum of Natural History began in 1926, when he was appointed assistant curator in the Department of Anthropology.

He became associate curator in 1931 and from 1942 until his retirement in 1970 was chairman of the department and curator of physical anthropology.

Shapiro developed the theme and supervised the preparation of the Hall of the Biology of Man, which first opened in 1961.

Among his last projects as chairman was to design and supervise the American Museum's Centennial exhibition in 1969, ''Can Man Survive?''

Shapiro continued to work at the museum long after his retirement, serving in recent years as a lecturer. Until 1974, Shapiro taught at Columbia University.

Shapiro's field work included a pioneer genetic study of the descendants of the Bounty mutineers living on Norfolk Island in the Pacific. He reached the remote Pitcairn Island in 1934 and remained through 1935, completing his study of the genetic mixture that resulted from marriages between Bounty sailors and Tahitian women.

Between 1924 and 1970, Shapiro's field work took him to the Dominican Republic, Pacific Cambodia, China, Japan, India, Tahiti, New Zealand, Alaska and Spain.

His honors included the Theodore Roosevelt Distinguished Service Medal, the New York Academy Award and the American Association of Forensic Science distinguished service award.

Shapiro's wife, Janice, died in 1962. He is survived by his children Thomas, Harriet and James.