Skeletal Remains Identification

This is more of an announcement, to get the word out….

I listened to a Just Science podcast episode about skeletal remains identification. It starts as the typical conversation in which a biological anthropologist talks about how they are called upon to apply their training to forensic contexts.

However, Dr. Heather Garvin has helped developed something very cool. She’s the Principal Investigator on a National Institute for Justice (NIJ) grant-funded project to develop an online tool to help identify the mammalian species of non-human bones.

One of the usual tasks of a forensic anthropologist is to distinguish human from non-human skeletal remains. Usually, once skeletal remains are declared non-human, that’s the end of it. However, to further demonstrate that remains are non-human, sometimes the forensic anthropologist will determine the species of the remains. Because if it isn’t human, then what is it?

Identifying the species of non-human remains can be difficult for forensic anthropologists who don’t have a background that includes studying zoological specimens or have access to a reference collection. To help with this, Dr. Garvin and her team have developed an online tool to identify the mammalian species of these non-human remains. This tool doesn’t require knowledge of human or non-human remains or require much of anything, except access to a device and the internet.

How does it work?

  1. Figure out what bone you have (ie. femur, humerus, ulna) from comparing it to the reference pictures on the site
  2. Either compare your specific bone with the pictures of that bone from other mammals, or take length and breadth measurements and input them into the tool.
  3. Voila! You will likely have the species of the mammal whose remains you’re holding. It’s that easy.

The tool is called OsteoID Bone Identification and is available at

It is free.

The database they have compiled is limited, however, it is valuable for anyone who needs a determination asap.

As with anything, there is a caveat that Dr. Garvin states: if you find a bone that you suspect is human or you have ANY doubt that it is non-human, contact your local law enforcement. Err on the side of caution. That bone could be human, and an incorrect determination may adversely impact an investigation and that deceased person’s family receiving closure. Please, please, please, if in doubt, contact law enforcement.

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