A Quick Skeletal Remains Lab Set-Up for Forensic Anthropology


Need a Quick Way to Cover a LOT of Concepts in Forensics Without Setting Up a Whole Crime Scene? Try Stations!

This week, my class is entering the end of their study of Forensic Anthropology unit and I really wanted to provide them with a practical hands-on opportunity to practice what they’ve been learning.  It always seems that my students do well with diagrams of the skeleton, but when it comes to identifying things on a 3D model…. They panic 🙂 This year, I wanted to provide them practice with real bones and skeletons before we tackle it in a crime scene situation.  Since there seems to be so many topics to over in Forensic Anthropology, I decided to try using stations for this lab practical.

Here’s the way I set up my lab:


Fun teacher tip–> Any time you can make things look more “real” for them in Forensics, DO IT!  My students love that part of this class.  They always get right into “character” and put themselves into the shoes of a Criminalist.  I think it really helps them develop those critical thinking skills!  Also, I couldn’t find the rest of my white sheets to cover my tables in the “morgue”. I’m going to need to visit the thrift store and get some more.  I love to have 1 for each table. 🙂

Lab Station #1- Whole REAL Skeletons!

I put the whole real skeletons at the front of the lab


AND at the rear of the lab


I have 30 students in my Forensics classes so this helped the “flow” of traffic.  I didn’t require them to begin at Station #1.  I let them start wherever they wanted as long as the covered all the stations as well as the 2 Bonus Challenge stations.

At this station, I used a combination of questions from a Forensics lab manual.  The questions basically asked the students to:

  • Identify ALL of the bones in their skeleton (We actually just had a quiz on the major bones.  I don’t require them to learn all of the small bones in the skull, hands, or feet.)
  • Use a protractor to measure the angle of the pubic arch. Decide if they think the skeleton is male or female and provide evidence for their decision.
  • Measure the height of the whole skeleton.
  • Measure the humerus and use the appropriate formula to determine height.  Compare this to the height of the skeleton they just measured. Was it close?  Provide explanation if it wasn’t.
  • Measure the femur and use the appropriate formula to determine height.  Compare this to the height of the skeleton they just measured. Was it close?  Provide explanation if it wasn’t.
  • If the skull is present (only 1 of mine has the skull), determine the ethnic group of the skeleton. (I gave my students sketch notes I drew to use for reference)img_8799
  • Looking at the teeth and sutures of the skull (if present), determine the approximate age of the skeleton.  Provide evidence for your decision.
  • At the end, they had to write a summary statement of their whole skeleton. (Ex. “We believe that our skeleton was a Caucasian male,  between 5’8″ and 5’10” tall between the ages of 30 and 35 years old. “)

Lab Station #2- Determination of Sex (Pelvis)


At this station, students had to determine which pelvis belonged to a male or a female (these were plastic because we only had 1 real pelvis).  They had my sketch notes for reference as well as a little reference book that came with a Carolina kit called “Who Owns These Bones?” although any reference materials could be used.

Lab Stations #3 & #4- Determination of Height (Femur and Humerus)


Lab Station #3 was at one end of the lab table and Lab Station #4 was at the other end because I only have 1 osteometric board (which I put in the middle).  img_8797I used real bones for this station.  I found that having 2 humerus bones at 1 end and 2 femur bones at the other end helped the flow of traffic in the lab.  They shared the osteometric board for measuring. I also had reference material at each station so that they could plug their measurements into the appropriate formula to determine height.  The determination of sex with these bones was more challenging because they had to try and figure out if the bones would be “more likely” to be a man or woman since we couldn’t know for sure.  They had quite a few disagreements about this part LOL! It was helpful to have 2 humerus bones and 2 femur bones (mine were identical because they came from an old skeleton) so they had 1 set to measure their classmates’ arms and legs when deciding if it might fit a man or woman. (Side note: The Principal now thinks we are slightly crazy because he came into our lab to see what we were doing and the students immediately started “measuring” the bones against his arm and leg. I’m not sure he knew what to think lol)

Lab Station #5- Determination of Sex AND Determination of Race (Skulls)


Station #5 had 2 parts.  One lab table had plastic skulls to determine if they were male or female (and I put a fetal skull on there too so they could examine it).

The other lab table had 2 real skulls and 1 “bone clone” skull of an Asian female


I’m actually not sure how long we have had the 2 skulls with the tops cut off.  They are slightly creepy, I’ll be the first to admit 🙂

Bonus #1- Can You Solve This Case?


I used the scenario from Carolina’s kit “Who Owns These Bones?” but you could use anything.  I recently ordered this kit and it came with a male’s skull along with a humerus and fibula from a male between 5’9 and 5’11” tall.  I also added a real pelvis from a male.

Bonus #2- How Fast Can You Assemble a Disarticulated Skeleton?


This station was so fun!  Students had to time themselves re-assembling a disarticulated skeleton (it’s in the box) and record their time on their lab sheet.  So much competition amongst the students! It was great!

Overall, I think stations worked really well for this unit.  My students will be ready for a test next week, however, I’ve decided that on test day, we are going to have a crime scene outside instead.  The school resource officer and I are planning to disassemble and bury my half-size skeletons I purchased at Target after Halloween for $4. Then, just before I give their “test” out, he’s going to come into my room holding a bone that a “dog brought in” and tell my kids he needs their help locating the source (which will be in the woods at the corner of our band practice field).  I can’t wait!  Shhhhhh! Don’t tell them 🙂

To purchase the sketch notes I used in this lab please visit my TpT Store   https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Drm


Update: This activity was recently published in The Forensic Teacher E-Zine Spring 2021!! (Yay!!) To download your PDF copy of the whole issue, please click here

Click HERE to Download a FREE PDF of this ISSUE of The Forensic Teacher!!

About Edgy Instruction

Science Teacher (Biology, AP Biology, and Forensic Science), Anatomy Professor, and former Instructional coach.
This entry was posted in Forensics, Sketch Notes, Strategies, T.I.P Theory Into Practice, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Quick Skeletal Remains Lab Set-Up for Forensic Anthropology

  1. Anonymous says:

    I found this on the facebook A & P page. I thought this would be cool for my A & P class and last year a did a little forensic anthropology with them and I found it so interesting. I just purchased the sketch notes do you happen to have the lab you can share since I don’t teach Forensics i don’t have any lab manuals to search.

  2. tricia cignetti says:

    This looks amazing! Are you able to sell the rest of the lab on TPT or is there copy write issues because some of it came out of a workbook?

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