Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date


Faculty Sponsor

Samantha Blatt


When excavating human remains, the context of the site can be just as important in understanding the cause of death as the skeletal materials themselves. This research examines the implications of bioarchaeology and forensic contexts in the following case study. A site excavated in the 1980s presented a skeletonized individual with a rifle leaning against a tree. Later identified, this individual was a missing person who disappeared in the winter in the 1920’s. Due to the presence of the rifle, the location of the individual under the tree, and the missing cranium, the manner of death was initially assumed a suicide. The case was then investigated by the local pathologist who visited the site, looked at the scene photos, and interviewed ranchers. From information obtained from local residence regarding possible life saving actions a lost individual may take, the pathologist chose to investigate the site further. Ongoing investigation recovered a missing bullet on the ground near the individual. The case was thus reclassified as death by hypothermia, not suicide, after taking local knowledge into account. This is an example of a case where the context of the site does not always produce all the evidence needed to classify cause and manner of death on initial investigation. This case study can help to demonstrate to law enforcement and other investigators how important context of a site can become.