Documented Skeletal Collection

The Maxwell Museum's documented collection was established in 1984 and has since grown to include over 310 individuals (as of 2019) encompassing both sexes, all ages, and many population groups. The skeletal remains are obtained by donation, either by the individual before death, by the family of a deceased loved one, or by the Office of the Medical Investigator when the next-of-kin cannot be located. Information on the sex, age, population affinity, and cause of death is available for the majority of these individuals, so that students and visiting researchers can develop and test new techniques and theories.

Since 1995, prospective donors or their families have been asked to provide health and occupational data as well. This information allows researchers to examine the skeletal manifestations of particular diseases including degenerative joint disease, lymphoma, and osteoporosis, as well as the reaction of bone to repetitive motions and trauma. Recent research has focused on understanding the effects of muscle use on the human skeleton and on how various cancers metastasize to bone. The importance of the documented collection cannot be overstated. No other institution in the American West has as large a collection of human skeletal remains with such extensive demographic data. In addition, the Maxwell Museum’s collection consists entirely of individuals who have passed away in the last 50 years.


All skeletal remains are kept in the Osteology Repository. The laboratory and repository are secure spaces, protected by locked doors and alarm systems. In addition, individuals granted access to the skeletal collections are required to treat the remains with respect and handle bones with extreme care. When skeletal remains from the documented collection are used for teaching purposes, students are constantly under supervision by their professors or teaching assistants. Documented collection skeletal remains may not be removed from the Anthropology Building, and all analyses and research must be conducted in the repository or laboratory, unless special written permission is granted.

The Maxwell Museum’s documented skeletal collection is available for use by any graduate student, faculty member, or visiting researcher with a valid, non-invasive research proposal. Advanced undergraduate students must forward a letter of support from their anthropology adviser in addition to the research proposal. A Research Inquiry Request Form can be submitted online, or you can contact us. Please allow at least 4-6 weeks for us to process your request before you come to do research. Photography of individuals in the documented collection is limited, and permission will be granted on a case-by-case basis. Please indicate in your research request whether you will need to photograph the remains. You can review the Maxwell Museum's research photography policy as needed.

Age, Sex and Ancestry Distribution

We have resumed our Body Donation program. Please contact the lab if you have any questions.


Please check here for updates or call 505-277-3535 for more information.

COVID-19 Update