What is Forensic Osteology?      

The simplest definition of Forensic Osteology is that it is the application of the study of bones (osteology) to the field of forensic science.  Whereas a Medical Examiner (aka - ME, and usually a trained forensic pathologist) is experienced in dealing with bodies that still retain soft tissues, the field of forensic osteology deals almost exclusively with skeletal material, and the manner in which the skeletonization occurred.  On a comparative note - Forensic Anthropology adds to the field of osteology by combining archaeological field techniques with the area of skeletal anatomy.  A more detailed description of forensic anthropology can be seen at the website for the American Board of Forensic Anthropology.   


   France Casting 

Anatomical background

For the 2-day Forensic Osteology workshops, it is assumed that all participants will have a fundamental understanding and working knowledge of human anatomy, especially skeletal anatomy, i.e., you should be able to at least identify all of the major bones and landmarks of the human skeleton. The structure list for 2-day workshops can be accessed by clicking the following link:  Osteology List

For those not possessing such a background - all is not lost.  Some excellent anatomy sites are located at the following URLs: 






A few hours time at the above sites should bring most of the non-anatomists "up to speed" as far as the anatomy and terminology are concerned.

The following texts are quite useful for reference:

Human Osteology, by William M. Bass  (ISBN:  0-943414-81-4)

The Human Bone Manual, by Tim D. White & Pieter A Folkens (ISBN:  0-12-088467-4)

Introduction to Forensic Anthropology - A Textbook, by Steven N. Byers (ISBN:  0-205-43538-6)

Forensic Osteology - Advances in the Identification of Human Remains, (2nd ed.) edited by Kathleen J. Reichs

 (ISBN:  0-398-06804-6)

Additional/alternative workshops

As previously mentioned, this is a course designed for those needing introductory-level exposure to forensic osteology. Those already possessing a significant working knowledge of forensic science and forensic osteology/anthropology would  be best served by taking one of the more in-depth forensic anthropology "short courses" offered at various colleges and universities around the country. 

I can highly recommend any of the NSF-sponsored Chautauqua short courses, as well as any of the summer short courses offered through the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute at Mercyhurst College, Erie, PA.  The facilities and the faculty are some of the best you will ever encounter!  Please note that Mercyhurst also offers a Master of Science degree in Forensic and Biological Anthropology.  Baccalaureate students considering an MS degree in the field of forensic anthropology, or a related area, should certainly investigate the program at Mercyhurst.  

Additional workshops are offered through the Anthropology Department at the University of Tennessee - Knoxville, and these often include time spent at the "Body Farm" (Anthropology Research Facility).  The faculty & staff at UT-K are absolutely stellar!    I have also attended the AFIP/NTSB short course, and it is well worth attending as well!.  (Armed Forces Institute of Pathology)  While it does not go into the depth that the Mercyhurst or UT-K workshops do, it provides an excellent introduction into all aspects of forensic anthropology.  A logical plan would be to attend the AFIP course one year, followed by some of the Mercyhurst and/or UT-K courses each of the following Summers.


The Forensics Lab


It's small, it's stark, and it is always cluttered with bones! 





Link to Announcement Page - for participants who have already registered.

While the main thrust of the workshop is Forensic Osteology, several other relevant areas will be touched on in the 2-day workshops.   A significant number of the specimens used for the hands-on lab sessions will be real human bones.  The remainder are high quality replica castings.



Basic Taphonomy (lecture) - Taphonomy deals with the various processes that lead to the skeletonization of a body.  This portion of the workshop will include discussions of post-mortem changes, mummification, submerged & buried bodies, contemporary vs archaeological specimens, and environmental factors influencing skeletonization.

Ballistic & Sharp Trauma (lecture with hands-on lab session) - In this part of the workshop, participants will be exposed to the physical aspects of ballistic and sharp trauma of bone.  The concept of sawmark identification will also be covered.

PMI/TOD (lecture) - Estimation of Post Mortem Interval and Time of Death.

Skeletal Inventory(lecture & lab) - Determining the number and condition of bones found at a forensic scene.

MNI (lecture with hands-on lab session*) - Determination of Minimum Number of Individuals in cases involving multiple decedents.


Reconstruction of a human hand recovered from fire.

Identification of human skeletal remains/Biological Profile - (lecture & lab). Determination of class characteristics, i.e., sex, stature, age, and race/ancestry. Human vs non-human remains.  Introductory forensic odontology.


Inventory & Identification of calcined human bone from fire.

Bone warpage due to exposure to elevated temperature.

Burned human femur fragment. 

Human prostheses - post fire.

Odontology component includes tooth identification, age & racial differences,

as well as postmortem vs. premortem tooth loss. 

What can this tooth tell us about the original owner???

What can be determined from this specimen?

Age, sex, pre vs. postmortem tooth loss?

France Casting

Fetal skeletal inventory & MNI determination lab

(before I & R)


Bone Clones

Adult skeletal inventory & MNI determination lab

(before I & R)

Bone Clones

Sub-adult skeletal inventory & MNI determination lab

(before I & R)

Exemplar skull showing data points used to estimate age at time of death.

Bone Clones

Entrance wound on GSW- TT (gunshot wound - through and through)

Bone Clones

Exit GSW - same skull as previous image

Identification labs and Case Studies - ID labs will make up a significant portion of Day 2.  These labs and case studies will involve determining sex, age, race, and stature, of selected specimens. Assessment of skeletal trauma will also be covered. 

Distal femur - healed fracture. 

                                                  Proximal ulna - excess bone callus secondary to trauma or disease


                                                                 An atypical femur                                                            


      Atlanto-occipital fusion


This "trophy skull" specimen was found in a dumpster behind an abandoned store. 

We often use it as one of the Case Studies for the workshop.

Preparation of teaching specimens (lecture & demo. Presented only for those workshops where all participants are educators.) - This final portion of the course involves an introduction to the hows & whys of obtaining specimens, as well as altering replica specimens and animal bones so as to make them appear as authentic forensic specimens. Suggestions for hands-on labs will also be provided, e.g., a forensic exhumation lab. Finally - we will have a discussion for those who are interested in starting a forensic science course at their school.


Participants of June 2006 Workshop

Participants of November 2006 Workshop

Instructor Profile

- john moore -


(above left)  This is the only living specimen you will see during the workshops.

Old enough to be classified as archaeological - at least from a forensic point of view!!!!!

(above right) - John with Dr. William Bass      

Personal Webpage Link

Link to Parkland Natural Sciences Department

Link to Announcement Page - for participants who have already registered.


John Moore is a professor at Parkland College, where he has taught for the past 30 years.  Prior to coming to Parkland, he held the position of Visiting Lecturer in Anatomy at the University of Illinois, School of Basic Medical Sciences.  In addition to teaching Anatomy & Physiology, Pathophysiology, and Cross-Sectional Anatomy at Parkland, he is part of a team of cross-disciplinary instructors teaching the introductory forensics course, Essentials of Forensic Science, and is the lead instructor for the second semester course - Forensic Science II: Death Analysis.  Topics covered in these courses include - bloodstain pattern analysis, forensic osteology & anthropology, ballistics, pathology, explosives, trauma & radiological interpretation, and mass disaster investigation. 

 As a child, John's parents noted that his two favorite presents were his microscope (received for his 5th birthday!), and his Daisy BB gun (received Christmas of the year he turned 10).  It seems only fitting that he grew up to have an interest in forensics.  In 1973, long before the current forensics fad on television, John entered the field of forensics by becoming a consultant for the Grand Rapids Police Department Crime Lab.  Most of his case load was in the area currently known as trace evidence, and most of his active cases were homicides.   Every June John presents a two-day short-course in Forensic Osteology at Parkland College, as well as several one-day "educators only" lab workshops throughout the academic year.  


John's forensic training includes the following:

NSF/Chautauqua coursework:  
Forensic Anthropology
Bloodstain Pattern Analysis

Mercyhurst College - Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute:
Skeletal ID
Trauma & Pseudo-Trauma

Armed Forces Institute of Pathology/NTSB - Forensic Anthropology:
Skeletal ID
Taphonomy, Odontology, Trauma
University of Tennessee - Knoxville (Forensic Anthropology/the "Body Farm"):
    Human skeletal ID

 In addition to the above, John also possesses an extensive background in both martial arts and tactical firearms.  He holds the rank of Go Dan (5th degree blackbelt) in Isshin Ryu karate, and is a multiple graduate of one of the top firearms training facilities in the nation, Gunsite Academy.  (In addition to training selected civilians, Gunsite is best known as one of the primary advanced training facilities for agents or officers from the FBI, ATF, CIA, DEA, Navy SEALS, USMC Force Recon, US Border Patrol, and Federal Air Marshalls.) 

And yes, if you haven't already figured it out by clicking on the link to his Personal Webpage, John loves his 6 French Bulldogs and his one Maltese.

 The reason John never eats at the dining room table at home - at least not often!


082063b.jpg (181831 bytes)

"All too often, information flows from the notes of the professor,

into the notebooks of the students -

without passing through the minds of either! "


The above statement was made to our SIU Biophysics class by Professor Al Richardson in 1974.  I wrote it down at the time and, needless to say, it has stuck in my mind for the past 30 years.  Each day I step into a classroom, I strive to ensure that it does not apply to me, or to my students. - jm


Link to Announcement Page - for participants who have already registered.



Tanceant colloquia. Effugiat risus.

Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succurrere vitae.

(Let conversation cease. Let laughter flee. This is the place where death delights to help the living.)



My name is Bella, and I am one of the 7 dogs and 20+ birds that live with John and Andrea - his veterinarian/wife! 

Now you know how he gets the bone specimens with "gnaw marks" on them!



Link to Announcement Page - for participants who have already registered.