Thank you for your interest in the Written in Bone website
Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th-Century Chesapeake was an exhibit (2009–2014) that focused on the study of human remains to understand more about individuals, their lives, and culture. It also touched upon forensic anthropology, a sub-field of biological anthropology that involves applying skeletal analysis and techniques in archaeology to solving criminal cases. The Written in Bone website was developed to enhance the information available in the exhibit.
We have recently made the decision to take down the Written in Bone website and would like to share with you some background information about this decision.
In recent years, museums have been reckoning with the methods and means by which collections, including human remains, have been acquired. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is no exception.
Many of the remains in Smithsonian collections were acquired without informed consent – permission from the individual, their families, or their communities – and in ways that are not consistent with modern standards. We acknowledge that some of the practices of our past may not have been acceptable then and are certainly not acceptable today.
Although most of the individuals whose stories were featured in Written in Bone are not part of Smithsonian collections and were shared with the consent and endorsement of family, descendant groups, and partner organizations serving as the communities of care, we decided to refrain from making available this online content pending a new policy on the ethical stewardship of human remains from the Smithsonian Human Remains Task Force.
We understand that Written in Bone has been a useful and popular teaching resource for teachers and their students. We hope you will explore our Teaching Resources and School Programs for other content to support your teaching.
We ask for your support in championing changes that reflect best practices in museums and research, understanding that all individuals and their represented human remains deserve dignity, respect, appropriate care, and stewardship.
More information about the Smithsonian’s efforts in this regard may be found on our Shared Stewardship and Ethical Returns webpage.