Stories behind the bones

Anthropologists Dr. Jaime Ginter talks about her new course “Forensic Anthropology”


Dr. Jaime Ginter is a physical anthropologist with research interests in skeletal biology, bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology.  She obtained degrees from the University of Alberta (B.A.), the University of Western Ontario (M.A.), and the University of Toronto (Ph.D.).  Her research explores skeletal and archaeological evidence for lifestyle change among South African Later Stone Age hunting and gathering populations and prehistoric Ontario First Nations groups.  She has recently applied her interests in health and ageing to a research project that examined the vitamin D levels of older adults of diverse ancestry living in the Greater Toronto Area.

Ginter skull photo (1)

Photo courtesy: Jaime Ginter (Personal archive)


In ANTH37721GD Forensic Anthropology students explore the theoretical foundations and practical applications of forensic anthropology. Forensic anthropology is an applied sub-field of physical anthropology that uses methods and theory developed in human osteology and archaeology to investigate human remains and assess cause of death in a medicolegal setting. The purpose of this course is to give students the opportunity to learn about the role that forensic anthropologists play in a law enforcement investigation, to gain experience with the applied techniques that forensic anthropologists use to recover and identify skeletonized remains, and to critically evaluate public perception of the forensic process and forensic anthropologists.

The capstone project of this course is the creation of a biological profile for a human skeleton. This project will challenge students to conduct primary research as they apply their knowledge of methods of skeletal identification to create a narrative about the life (age, sex, population affiliation, health, occupation, lifestyle, and antiquity) of an individual of unknown identity from their skeletal remains. Students will also research the time period and locality where the skeletal individuals lived their lives in order to contextualize the findings of their biological profile.

comparison of 2 3D imaging methods_Forensic

Photo courtesy: Jaime Ginter and Song Ho Ahn from NILES

We were fortunate to secure a long-term loan of a small collection of human skeletal remains from the Staatssammlung für Anthropologie und Paläoanatomie (SAPM) in Munich, Germany. The skeletal material originates from a cemetery located in the old city in Hall, near Innsbruck, Austria, which was excavated in a 2005 survey conducted by the Hall City Archaeology under the direction of Dr. Alexander Zanesco of the University of Innsbruck and Dr. George McGlynn of the SAPM. The cemetery was in use until about the mid-19th century, but the skeletal material that we received are from older burials dating from the 16th to 18th century that were exhumed to make room for new burials when the cemetery reached capacity. Dr. McGlynn estimates that the entire cemetery grounds contained upwards of 8000-10000 individuals, with individual grave shafts containing up to 5 individuals.

The collection of human skeletal remains will serve as an integral teaching tool and teacher throughout the course, without which this course would not be possible.

In addition to their use in the Forensic Anthropology course, the human remains are also part of a 3D imaging project that I am working on with Song Ho Ahn from NILES. The goals of this project are to create a digital archive of the remains as part of our curatorial strategy, develop an web-based educational application that includes detailed 3D images of the remains bones and evaluation tools, and collect digital data from the skeletal remains that can be used learn more about the life of the individual that the remains belong to than is possible from study of the external morphology of the bone.