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Dr. Doug Owsley and Kari Bruwelheide of the National Museum of Natural History explain what bones can tell you about people of the past. They discuss their research on early immigrants to the Chesapeake Bay region. Video courtesy of the History Channel.

Written in Bone was a popular exhibit in the Museum for almost five years; this website was developed originally to enhance the information available in the exhibit and continues as a free-standng website. This site examines history through 17th-century bone biographies, including those of colonists teetering on the edge of survival at Jamestown, Virginia, those living in the wealthy and well-established settlement of St. Mary’s City, Maryland and farmers located in Leavy Neck in Anne Arundel County of Maryland; scientists affiliated with these projects worked with Smithsonian anthropologists in the development of the original exhibit and with this website.

The forensic investigation of human skeletons provides intriguing information on people and events of America's past. No other inanimate objects make us feel the same passionate curiosity as the remains of once-living, breathing individuals like us. And nothing else can answer our questions in quite the same ways.

At no other time in our history have we had the technological
capability or opportunity now available to help us tell this tale. 
Explore the history and science behind the investigation as we learn
for the first time the intimate stories of America's early colonists.

Forensic Anthropology Lab Activities

The original classroom facility, the exhibit's Forensic Anthropology Lab, closed in 2013 but forensic anthropology school programs are now offered in the new Q?rius education space. Learn more about the Forensic Mysteries school programs and other Natural History Investigations. Please call 202-633-1078 with additional questions about programs or logistics.

The Secret in the Cellar

is a Webcomic based on an authentic forensic case from Leavy Neck, Maryland. Using graphics, photos, and online activities, the Secret in the Cellar unravels a mystery of historical, and scientific importance.


Forensic Files
Written in Bone (this website) explores forensic anthropology through a series of case studies. Access all the forensic case files from a single page.

cover of the exhibit's companion volume
Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland
by Sally Walker discusses some of the discoveries related here.

cover of exhibit catalog
Written in Bone: A
Bone Biographer's Casebook
features over 150 never before released photos from the forensic files of the National Museum of Natural History.

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