Anthropologist, Division Head of Physical Anthropology

Anthropologist Dr. Doug Owsley crouched down in a burial site looking at two human skeletons excavated in Jamestown.
Dr. Doug Owsley at a burial site in Jamestown, Virginia. Image from Smithsonian.

Dr. Doug Owsley is the Division Head of Physical Anthropology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. He is a forensic and physical anthropologist whose fascination with bones began in childhood when he and a friend reassembled an entire horse skeleton they found while exploring abandoned silver mine near their homes in Lusk, Wyoming. Following his interest he went on to earn a B.S. in Zoology from the University of Wyoming and his Ph.D. in Physical Anthropology from the University of Tennessee, where he studied under Drs. William Bass and Richard Jantz.

Since coming to the Smithsonian in 1987, Dr. Owsley has identified human 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. 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.

Dr. 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. His work on the skeleton is in an edited volume entitled Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton.