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"We treat all remains coming into the lab as individuals, each with a unique life story reflected in his or her skeleton. The desire to learn more about the person encourages us to try new technologies and methods of obtaining even greater amounts of information. It is detective work of the most satisfying kind because it tells us just a little bit more of the human story."

- Kari Bruwelheide
Smithsonian museum specialist
and forensic anthropologist

Dr. Douglas Owsley
Dr. Douglas Owsley. Image courtesy: Smithsonian Institution

For over a century physical anthropologists in the Smithsonian's Department of Anthropology have assisted law enforcement agencies and medical examiners in the retrieval, evaluation, and analysis of human remains in order to identify victims and solve crimes. The tradition of Forensic Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution began in 1903 with Ales Hrdlicka, the Smithsonian's first physical anthropologist. [Do you need a PDF reader? Download here] Today, forensic anthropologists at the Smithsonian continue to train the next generation of researchers while serving the FBI, State Department, and national law enforcement agencies in work ranging from individual criminal cases to mass disasters and war crimes.

The National Museum of Natural History, where the Smithsonian's Department of Anthropology is located, houses one of the world's premier human comparative skeletal collections containing over 30,000 sets of catalogued remains representing populations world-wide. In addition, the division houses one of the premier anatomical research collections, consisting of over 1,700 complete human skeletons from known individuals assembled by Robert J. Terry between 1921 and 1946. Because of the completeness of the information and excellent preservation, it continues to be a fundamental resource for research on bone pathology, skeletal biology, and forensic anthropology.

Selected Resources:

Kari Bruwelheide & DougLas Owsley

Written in Bone; Reading the Remains of the 17th Century (AnthroNotes Volume 28 No. 1 Spring 2007) [Do you need a PDF reader?    Download here]

Dr. Douglas Owsley and Kari Bruwelheide give an overview in this article of their work for the exhibit, Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th-Century Chesapeake.

Dave Hunt examines bones


The Anthropology Outreach Office publishes AnthroNotes, a National Museum of Natural History Publication for Educators. Access the current issue, as well as previous issues, and learn a bit more about available educational products.

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