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WM Bass Donated Skeletal Collection

The Bass Donated Skeletal Collection was established in 1981 as a result of Dr. William Bass’ establishment of a body donation program to further his time since death research. This donation program provides the necessary cadavers needed to conduct research at the Anthropological Research Facility. Every individual donated to the skeletal collection is also used to educate, train, and provide a resource for research in forensic taphonomy. In addition to the research at our outdoor facility, the skeletal collection has become a major resource for studying modern Americans. We continually add to the collection as a result of those donated to our program for the purpose of conducting research on time since death.

The collection is continually growing through the increased awareness of our research program within the Forensic Anthropology Center (FAC). Over 1700 individuals are curated in the collection with birth years ranging from 1892 to 2016. Most individuals have birth years after 1940. The collection encompasses individuals of both sexes and all adult age ranges (see figures of age, sex and ancestry distribution). The collection does include a small number of infant and fetal remains (N=42) and cremains (N=47) at this time. All skeletal remains housed in the collection are donated to the Forensic Anthropology Center from an individual prior to death or the family of a deceased individual (Refer to Body Donation for more information.)

It is very important to have a documented collection representing the current living population, because this is the population from which forensic cases are derived. Individuals within the collection represent individuals from all over the United States and from all walks of life. Individuals within the collection represent nearly every state with a majority from Tennessee and the Southeastern United States. Most individuals within the collection have known age, sex, ancestry, cause of death, and body mass information. This information can be used to re-evaluate current and create new criteria for the identification of unknown skeletal material. Additionally, all individuals within the collection have associated anthropometric data, which are added to the Forensic Data Bank housed at the University of Tennessee. This Data Bank is a major source of data for the FORDISC, a discriminant function program developed by Dr. Richard Jantz .

Since 1999, the FAC has added extensive information on donors to the collection including, health, occupation, socio-economic status, birth information, and habitual activities. The additional information has provided new opportunities to determine how modern Americans are changing and to study specific disease processes. For example, recent and ongoing research focuses on obesity’s affect on bone, alcoholism, diabetes, and trauma patterns. The wealth of information available has also led to collaborations with biomedical engineering for assistance in developing orthopedic appliances. More recently, we have started collecting residential histories to provide a resource for tracking and identifying individuals through isotope analyses. Other resources available include hair, nails and blood samples for donors received after 2008.

All skeletal remains are curated and maintained by the FAC within the Department of Anthropology. The collection is stored in a well protected environment that is continually monitored. No remains are allowed to leave the collection facilities without direct, written approval of the FAC Director and no remains are loaned to outside institutions for teaching purposes.

Students, faculty and researchers interested in using the collection must seek pre-approval of their projects by completing a research request form and submitting it to Dawnie Steadman. Students must provide a research proposal and a letter of support from an advisor. Please provide enough time prior to dates of use for the processing of your request. Limited photography is allowed and will be granted on a case by case basis.

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