Skip to content
Our program is continually changing and growing and would not be possible without the support of donors, their families, and volunteers.
- Forensic Anthropology is a field that studies the human skeleton to aid law enforcement. In doing so, a forensic anthropologist can estimate the age, sex, ancestry, and stature of human remains, as well as estimate the time since death and interpret trauma to the skeleton.
- The Forensic Anthropology Center is unique in its field by having both a body donation program and the Anthropological Research Facility (ARF). The ARF is the oldest established facility of its kind.
- Every donation will be brought to the Anthropology Research Facility (ARF) and contribute to our research on time since death. Once a person’s remains become skeletal, they are collected, cleaned, and accessioned into the William M. Bass Donated Collection. The average length of time for a donation to be at the ARF is about 2 years.
- Dr. William M. Bass, finding that there was a need to understand the processes of human decomposition, founded the Anthropology Research Facility in the 1970’s. Knowing how a human body decomposes allows us to estimate how long someone has been dead. Time since death is one of the first things an investigator tries to figure out since this helps in identifying the possible perpetrator and victim.
- The impact of our research and training is seen in many areas of forensic science. The FAC and their partners has been awarded over 10 grants in the last four years alone. FAC forensic anthropologists perform casework for agencies throughout the nation and serve as expert witnesses. We also gather law enforcement and subject matter experts from around the world for our training courses.
- The research conducted at the Anthropology Research Facility ranges from general observations on how a cadaver decomposes to high technology research, including DNA, proteomics, microbes, and isotope research. Some of the more recent projects include working with the FBI (testing hair and facial recognition programming), University of Arizona (isotopes and geographic residence), Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the International Commission of Missing Persons (determining the degradation of DNA and ability to extract DNA from decomposing remains), Lincoln Memorial University (proteomics), as well as with other facilities at Sam Houston University, Colorado Mesa and Texas State University (microbial research and decomposition). We also do research and development with national laboratories, particularly Oak Ridge National Laboratories, as well as private industry. We perform simulated case studies for law enforcement and our Master and Doctoral students conduct independent research relating to their theses.
- The William M. Bass Donated Collection is currently the largest collection of modern people in the United States. This means that it is one of the best ways to study the skeletons of modern populations. Most of the criteria in use today for estimating age, sex, and ancestry were developed from collections of skeletons from the late 19th century, as these were the only ones available at the time forensic anthropology began. Since people have changed over the last century, it is crucial to have access to modern skeletons in order to develop new identification criteria that reflects these changes. The skeletons are housed in perpetuity–in fact, the first donation received in 1981 is still used in research today.
- Currently, we have over 1,800 individuals in our collection and average approximately 100 new donations per year. These include individuals who have pre-registered with us and have been donated by their families. Our donors come from nearly every state and multiple countries.
- Our pre-donor program has well over 4,000 individuals who have chosen to donate to us prior to their death. These individuals come from all 50 states and 6 different countries and represent all age ranges.
- Family donations make up approximately 50% of our annual donations. These donations are individuals who had not made arrangements with us prior to their death, but their family has chosen this as an alternative to other funerary options. Most of these types of donations are of individuals who were wishing to donate to science but did not make the arrangements prior to death, had been deceased too long prior to notifying a medical school, or did not meet one of the several regulations often associated with other donation programs. In many cases, the individual simply wanted to help the advancement of our understanding of forensic anthropology.
- The FAC does not charge for body donations and relies on external grants and financial donations from individuals, families and corporations to support our daily operations, our student research and our equipment. We are particularly grateful to the Haslam family for the Haslam Postdoctoral Fellowship and the William M. Bass Forensic Anthropology Building, Dr. Bass and the Bass family who support the William M. Bass Forensic Anthropology Building and the Bass Endowment, Walter Leitner for the Walter Leitner Award, and Simon Beckett for the Simon Beckett Student Paper Prize. If you wish to make a financial contribution to support the FAC, please contact Dawnie Steadman.