Forensic Anthropology at the Smithsonian
"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
Helping Solve Mysteries
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. 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.
(AnthroNotes Volume 28 No. 1 Spring 2007)*
In this article, Dr. Douglas Owsley and Kari Bruwelheide give an overview of their work for the exhibit, Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th-Century Chesapeake. The exhibit was on display in the National Museum of Natural History from February 9, 2009 to January 6, 2014.
The Anthropology Outreach Office published AnthroNotes, a National Museum of Natural History Publication for Educators, from 1979 to 2012. All issues are archived and available at Smithsonian Libraries' AnthroNotes Repository.