Douglas Owsley

Division Head, Physical Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History

Douglas Owsley, division head for Physical Anthropology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., is considered one of the foremost forensic anthropologists at work today. He has identified remains from news-making crime scenes, mass disasters and war zones, including Jeffrey Dahmer’s first victim, the Waco Branch Davidian compound, the 9/11 Pentagon plane crash and war dead from the former Yugoslavia.

Owsley is fascinated with the wealth of information that can be recovered by studying the human skeleton, not just the cause of death, but also details about the life of a person. In addition to forensic case work, he is conducting extensive research on historic and prehistoric populations from North America. These include the remains of 17th-century colonists, Civil War soldiers such as the crew of the H.L. Hunley and ancient Americans. Highlights of his work on Jamestown Island were featured in the exhibition at the National Museum of Natural History, “Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th-Century Chesapeake.”

Owsley was instrumental in advocating for the right of scientists to analyze the 9,300-year-old Kennewick Man skeleton discovered along the Columbia River in Washington state. Without his intervention and subsequent analysis, the important information provided by the Kennewick Man remains would more than likely have been lost to science. A volume on what has been learned from this important discovery is in press.

Owsley received his B.S. degree in zoology from the University of Wyoming and his Ph.D. in physical anthropology from the University of Tennessee.

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