Bone Search and Recovery Short Course

Course Materials 

Course Description

The course is aimed to those who have never been involved with a search involving human remains, or those who have limited experience and need some support. It’s based on the presentations I did a few years ago for civilian volunteer SAR groups and law enforcement. Many volunteer search organizations only receive training in searching for intact humans. Sometimes people who volunteer for searches don’t receive any training at all.

This is a basic, entry-level introduction for civilians, physical anthropology students, and new law enforcement members. This course focuses on the context of outdoor surficially-dispersed remains: what to look for, how to look for it, and where to look. It is my hope that this online course will be accessible enough to assist searchers everywhere in their efforts.

This course aims to increase awareness of the importance of context, what bone looks like, how bone can be camouflaged by the environment, and how animal activity can impact a dead body and influence what may or may not be available for recovery.

What is included:

  • What bones look like in a surficial outdoor context
  • Why bones in a surficial outdoor context may scatter / disperse
  • Tips to help searchers discover more remains and items of potential forensic evidence in surficial outdoor settings
  • A definition of context and why it’s important

What is not included:

  • There are many ethical implications of using photography of human remains. One such implication involves the inability to control the use of the photograph once it has been released. As such, this course and any future courses will not include photographs of actual human remains. See this article for more information:
  • This course focuses on searching for and recovering items of potential forensic evidence, including bone. This course does not include information or instruction on distinguishing human and non-human bone.
  • The course is focused on building awareness rather than capacity. If you are looking to build on your existing searching skills or you wish to build capacity in another new area (ie, cremains), please let me know. It may be possible to build a course to your needs.

Further Reading

Kjorlien, Y., Beattie, O., Peterson, A. (2009). Scavenging activity can produce predictable patterns in surface skeletal remains scattering: Observations and comments from two experiments. Forensic Science International. Vol. 188 (1): 103-106.

Kjorlien, Y. (2004). Patterns in the Scattering of Remains due to Scavenger Activity. Unpublished MA Thesis. University of Alberta, Edmonton.

Further Watching

The Scavenging Study

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