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Fast Facts

Our program is continually changing and growing and would not be possible without the support of donors, their families, and volunteers.

  1. Forensic Anthropology is a field that studies the human skeleton to aid law enforcement. In doing so, an anthropologist can help determine the age, sex, ancestry, and stature, as well as help in figuring out the time since death and manner of death of a deceased individual.
  2. The University of Tennessee’s Anthropology department is unique in its field by having both a body donation program and the Anthropological Research Facility (ARF). The ARF is now the oldest established facility of its kind.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. The research conducted at the Anthropology Research Facility ranges from general observations on how a cadaver decomposes (color change, etc), to evaluating DNA degradation and biochemical odor analyses. Some of the more recent projects include working with the FBI (testing hair and facial recognition programming), University of Arizona (looking at our C14 ratio as it pertains to atomic energy), and Florida International University (determining the degradation of DNA and ability to extract DNA from decomposing remains). We also perform simulated case studies for law enforcement and have Master and Doctoral students conduct independent research relating to their theses. However, we do not perform any destructive analysis involving further damage to the remains beyond the condition in which we received them.
  6. 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.
  7. Currently, we have over 1,000 individuals in our collection and average approximately 100 new donations per year. These include individuals who have pre-registered with us, have been donated by their families, or by a medical examiner. They come from 33 different states and 2 different countries.
  8. Our pre-donor program has well over 2,750 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.
  9. Family donations make up over 60% of our annual donations. These donations are individuals that 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 with a medical school prior to death, had been deceased too long prior to notifying the medical school, or did not meet one of the several regulations often associated with other donation programs. In many cases, the individuals simply wanted to help the advancement of our understanding of forensic anthropology. Sometimes people are donated for financial reasons, and other donations are of a more personal nature.
  10. Medical Examiner donations represent a small portion of our cases, and are a declining aspect of our program. By donating to us, the state medical examiner feels that this will help the family, especially in cases where the person is unidentified. We will try to work every avenue possible to identify a person once they are donated to us and will work with the families so they can have closure.

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