A particular heritage: The importance of identified osteological collections


One of the main pillars of bioanthropological studies are identified osteological collections. The goal of this article is to describe this heritage and show its importance. Since the nineteenth century, several countries have collected sets of skulls and skeletons from people for whom we have some biographical data; among other details, their age and sex at death. There are currently around fifty collections in different countries in North and South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. Their research has applications in the study of human evolution, past populations, palaeopathology, and the history of medicine, among others. The need to increase the number of individuals and extend the geographic distribution of such samples has led to the continuous development of these collections. 


physical and biological anthropology; forensic anthropology; skeletal biology; palaeopathology; history of medicine

Full Text:



  • Alemán, I., Irurita, J., Valencia, A. R., Martínez, A., López-Lázaro, S., Viciano, J., & Botella, M. C. (2012). Brief communication: The Granada osteological collection of identified infants and young children. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 149(4), 606–610. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.22165 

  • Ardagna, Y., Bizot, B., Boëtsch, G., & Delestre, X. (Eds.). (2006). Les collections ostéologiques humaines: Gestion, valorisation et perspectives. Bulletin Archéologique de Provence, Supplément 4. Aix-en-Provence: Association Provence Archéologie. 

  • Cattaneo, C. (2007). Forensic anthropology: Developments of a classical discipline in the new millennium. Forensic Science International, 165(2-3), 185–193. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2006.05.018 

  • Chi-Keb, J. R., Albertos-González, V. M., Ortega-Muñoz, A., & Tiesler, V. G. (2013). A new reference collection of documented human skeletons from Mérida, Yucatan, Mexico. HOMO-Journal of Comparative Human Biology, 64(5), 366–376. doi: 10.1016/j.jchb.2013.05.002 

  • Del Río Muñoz, P. A. (2000). Estudio antropológico-forense, antropométrico y morfológico, de la colección de la Escuela de Medicina Legal de Madrid. Madrid: Facultad de Medicina de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid. 

  • Fazekas, I. G., & Kósa, F. (1978). Fetal forensic osteology. Budapest: Akademiai Kiado. 

  • Gresky, J., Haelm, J., & Clare, L. (2017). Modified human crania from Göbekli Tepe provide evidence for a new form of Neolithic skull cult. Science Advances, 3(6), e1700564. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1700564 

  • Henderson, C. Y., & Alves-Cardoso, F. (2018) Identified skeletal collections: Testing ground of anthropology. Oxford: Archaeopress. 

  • Molleson, T. I., Cox, M. J., Waldron, A., & Whittaker, D. K. (1993). The Spitalfields project: The middling sort. Volume 2. The anthropology. London: Council for British Archaeology. 

  • Perréard-Lopreno, G. (2006). Les collections ostéologiques humaines du Départment d’Anthropologie et d’Écologie de l’Université de Genève. In Y. Ardagna, B. Bizot, G. Boëtsch, & X. Deslestre, Les collections ostéologiques humaines: Gestion, valorisation et perspectives (pp. 25–90). Bulletin Archéologique de Provence, Supplément 4. Aix-en-Provence: Association Provence Archéologie. 

  • Quigley, C. (2001). Skulls and skeletons: Human bone collections and accumulations. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company. 

  • Rissech, C., & Steadman, D. W. (2011). The demographic, socio-economic and temporal contextualisation of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona collection of identified human skeletons (UAB collection). International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 21(3), 313–322. doi: 10.1002/oa.1145 

  • Santos, A. L. (2018). Skulls and skeletons from documented, overseas and archaeological excavations: Portuguese trajectories. In B. O’Donnabhain, & M. Lozada (Eds.), Archaeological Human Remains (pp. 111–125). Cham: Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-89984-8_8 

  • Santos, A. L., & Suby, J. A. (2012). Tuberculosis en retrospectiva: Revisión de los conocimientos actuales y su aplicación en el estudio de restos humanos. Cuadernos de Prehistoria y Arqueología de la Universidad de Granada, 22, 127–148. 

  • Spencer, F. (Ed.). (1997). History of physical anthropology: An encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing. 

  • Spradley, M. K., Jantz, R. L., Robinson, A., & Peccerelli, F. (2008). Demographic change and forensic identification: Problems in metric identification of Hispanic skeletons. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 53(1), 21–28. doi: 10.1111/j.1556-4029.2007.00614.x 

  • Ubelaker, D. H. (2014). Osteology reference collections. In C. Smith (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology (pp. 5632–5641). New York: Springer-Verlag. 

Creative Commons License
Texts in the journal are –unless otherwise indicated– published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License