Forensic Archaeology, Taphonomy & Trauma Laboratory Group

The Forensic Archaeology, Taphonomy, and Trauma Laboratory Group researches forensic anthropological field methods, postmortem changes to remains, and skeletal trauma.  These topic areas all afford expanding frontiers in forensics that are highly suited for thesis projects, and incoming students are highly encouraged to pursue these fields.  Forensic Archaeology covers all methods of field recovery, including burials and surface deposits, and pursues new applications of technology for mapping and recording sites and improvements to field methods.  Forensic Taphonomy covers all changes during the postmortem period from death of the organism until the recovery of its remains.  These changes include the processes of decomposition and what environmental factors affect its rate and form; scavenging by invertebrates and vertebrates; alteration of bones by vertebrates and the diagnosis of these alterations; dispersal of remains by human activities, other mammals, birds, and natural forces; subaerial weathering of bone and other natural forces to surface-exposed remains; alterations brought about by burial, including root penetration, soil staining, acidic dissolution, and coffin environments; and cultural practices to bone, including storage, handling, display, and ritual.  Forensic Trauma covers alterations to bone by human agencies, including ballistic, blunt force, sharp force, and thermal vectors, and the diagnosis of these from each other and taphonomic alterations.  This research includes the effects of dismemberment and subsequent thermal alteration upon the ability to diagnose bone trauma.

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  • BU Forensic Anthropology Program students performing surface search for bones as a part of a research project into surface scene recovery methods.

  • BU Forensic Anthropology Program students participating in a cemetery headstone project in Charlestown, MA.

  • Wetlands at the Outdoor Research Facility in Holliston, MA.

  • BU Forensic Anthropology Program students learning burial excavation techniques.

  • Experimentally induced bone weathering for taphonomic research at BU Forensic Anthropology Program.

  • Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) scavenging pig remains as a part of a taphonomy experiment at the Outdoor Research Facility in Holliston, MA

  • Google Earth Pro image of the Outdoor Research Facility in Holliston, MA.


James T. Pokines, Ph.D., D.-A.B.F.A.

  • Associate Professor, Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology
  • Forensic Anthropologist, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
  • Fellow, American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), Anthropology Section
  • Former Vice President and current Diplomate (No. 68) of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology (



Ph.D., University of Chicago
M.A., University of Chicago
B.A., Cornell University

Biography:  Dr. Pokines is an A.B.F.A. board-certified forensic anthropologist and also a zooarchaeologist, and his research has included Tiwanaku sites in Bolivia and Peru, Paleolithic sites in Spain and France, Classical site in Egypt, neotaphonomic sites in Kenya, and early hominin sites in South Africa.  He is currently engaged in a multi-site research program in the Paleolithic of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, including Wadi Zarqa Ma’in near the Dead Sea and the Azraq Oasis in the eastern desert.  Dr. Pokines also brings twelve years of prior forensic anthropology experience from the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, where he ran forensic excavations in locations including the U.S., Tibet, China, North Korea, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Iraq, and Greenland.  He is also concurrently the Forensic Anthropologist at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and provides all forensic anthropological analysis for the state.


  • FA 700 Professional Development (co-instructor)
  • FA 703 Zooarchaeology and Comparative Vertebrate Osteology
  • FA 800 Field Methods in Forensic Anthropology
  • FA 802 Applied Forensic Anthropology
  • FA 807 Taphonomy
  • FA 808 Forensic Trauma Analysis
  • FA 810 Mortuary Archaeology


The Forensic Anthropology Program at the Boston University School of Medicine maintains a 32-acre Outdoor Research Facility (ORF) in Holliston, MA, less than 30 miles west of the campus.  This facility includes a large research building for storing materials and performing research and a fully fenced decomposition field surrounded by unfenced land that allows natural scavenging species free access.  The acreage is primarily mixed forest and is bisected by natural wetlands that have been used for taphonomic experiments.  Large areas are available for all manner of outdoor taphonomic projects, including scavenging, decomposition, weathering, burial, dispersal, and field recovery.  Trauma projects, including burning The program also trains the students in crime scene procedures and forensic archaeology and maintains a separate classroom building.  Laboratory facilities are also available on campus and include dermestid beetle colonies and facilities for maceration, soil analysis, thermal alteration, histology, and inflicting blunt force.  Total station training is also standard curriculum, and this equipment is available for field projects.  Students have also performed joint projects with the faculty of the Biomedical Forensic Sciences Program ( at the Boston University School of Medicine that have included the effects of thermal alteration upon DNA recovery and burial and decomposition upon the recovery of traces of narcotics.

Other projects in taphonomy have used other Massachusetts resources in conjunction with other organizations, including the University of Massachusetts, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the Massachusetts State Police, which have loaned marine space for taphonomic experiments.  The Holliston Fire Department, in their adjacent training facility, has supplied safety support and controlled burning all major thermal projects, including house and vehicle fires for trauma and field recovery theses.

Publications and Theses

This section is expanding rapidly due to the high levels of student interest, and new projects are begun frequently.  Upon acceptance to the Forensic Anthropology Program, Dr. Pokines will discuss with you many possible thesis topics in this area help you shape any project’s focus, development, implementation, analysis, write-up, and publication.

Student Thesis Projects:

Student Thesis Project
Megan Hill The Comparison of Decomposition Processes of Fetal Pigs in Burials of Variable Depths and Wrapping
Isabella Liggett A Histological Examination of Bone Weathering
Alexis Muschal Using SPME and GC-MS to find Nicotine in Dental Plaque and Calculus on Teeth as a Indicator for Tobacco Use
Meagan O’Brien A Histotaphonomic Analysis of Freeze-Thaw Cycles on Bone
Sierra Sater Forensic Analysis of Seasonal Differences in Avian Scavenging of Remains in Eastern Massachusetts
Madeline Camp Biomechanical Investigation of Torsion and Classic Metaphyseal Lesions
Reshma Satish Fractography of Fresh vs. Dry Long Bones
Melissa Menschel Metric Analysis of Correlation Between Saw Blade Width and Kerf Width
Stormy Cassidy Analysis of Error in Fragmentary Skeletal Reconstruction
Elizabeth Church Photogrammetry within a Forensic Setting
Breanna Peace Examination of Hacking and Blunt Force Skeletal Trauma
Shana Springman Recovery Rates of Skeletal Materials from a Burned Vehicle Scenario
Sally Stark Assessing Decomposition of Enclosed Remains in a Lotic Aquatic Environment
Makala Udoni A Taphonomic Study of Black Bear (Ursus americanus) and Grizzly Bear (U. arctos) Tooth Marks on Bone
Kristina Mammano Mineral Absorption by Submerged Bone in Marine Environments as a Potential PMSI Indicator
Christina Young An Examination of Chainsaw Toolmarks for Individual Saw Identification and the Effects of Burning
Carrington Schneider Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) Taphonomy:  Analysis of Gnawed and Digested Bone
Jasmine Mansz Hacking Trauma:  Determining Tool Class Macroscopically on Bone
Lindsey Cadwell Macroscopic Observations on the Effects of Corrosive Substances on Bone and Soft Tissue When Subjected to Heating
Megan Gough Experimental Study of White Heat Line Formation in Burned Bone:  A Macroscopic and Microscopic Analysis
Corey Pollock Organic Staining on Bone from Exposure to Wood and Other Plant Materials
Amanda Maki The Effects of Standard Household Chemicals Containing Acids on Bone and Soft Tissue of Complete Pig (Sus scrofa) Heads
Jacqueline Berger Reciprocating Saws as Tools of Dismemberment:  Analysis of Class Characteristics and Practical Utility
Elizabeth Lednicky The Effect of Rainfall on Blowfly (Calliphoridae) Activity and Decomposition in Recently Deposited Carcasses
Jennifer Pendray Differentiation and Reconstruction of Thermal and Blunt Force Trauma
Alyssa Newcomb Observations of the Impacts of Mechanical Plowing on Buried Remains in Forensic and Archaeological Contexts
Kimberly McCraw Bone Preservation Over Time in an Archeological Burial Assemblage
Jordan Brouchoud The Effects of Thermal Alteration on Saw Mark Characteristics
Gregory Moore Correlation between Chainsaw Type and Tool Marks in Sectioned Bone
Ariel Peterson Modification and Dispersal of Bones in a Multi-Scavenger Environment
Marcelle LaCroix A Study of the Impact of Weathering upon the Minimal Force Required to Fracture Bone
Christine Junod Subaerial Bone Weathering and Other Taphonomic Changes in a Temperate Climate
Darryl Ricketts Scavenging Effects and Scattering Patterns on Porcine Carcasses in Eastern Massachusetts
Lauren Westling Underwater Decomposition:  An Examination of Factors Surrounding Freshwater Decomposition in Eastern Massachusetts
Amelia Boaks Collagen Degradation in Cadaveric Bone as a Function of Time
Kerry Pine Decomposition Sequence in the Forest Environment of the Pacific Northwest

Laboratory Group Peer-Reviewed Articles:

Christensen, A. M. and J. T. Pokines (2020) Discovery context of skeletal remains received at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Laboratory.  Forensic Anthropology 3(1):1-5.

Pokines, J. T., M. M. Udoni, S. Sanders Stark, S. Cassidy, M. L. Atkinson, E. Church, C. L. File, M. K. Green, M. D. Herrera, G. S. Kilroy, B. N. Peace, B. J. Purcell, A. S. Reinman, A. M. Sanchez, and S. J. Springman (2019) Success rates of recovering teeth and infant-sized bones dispersed among leaf litter.  Forensic Anthropology 2(3):168-177.

Federchook, T. J., J. T. Pokines, K. Crowley, and C. M. Grgicak (2019) Recovery of DNA from teeth exposed to variable temperatures.  Forensic Anthropology 2(3):143-151.

Pokines, J. T., S. Robinson, J. Mansz, N. Heidel, K. Jasny, J. Gilligan, A. Carmona, J. Kroll, S. Lavigne, and S. Calle (2019) Success rates of forensic surface search for osseous remains in a New England, U.S.A. environment. Forensic Anthropology 2(1):9-20.

Pokines, J. T., K. Mammano, M. Studebaker-Reed, J. Mowery, M. Patterson, C. Schneider, B. Trapp, and C. Mincher(2018) Success rates of recovering dispersed bones among leaf litter.  Forensic Anthropology 1(4):189-200.

Berger, J., J. T. Pokines, and T. L. Moore (2018) Analysis of class characteristics of reciprocating saws.  Journal of Forensic Sciences 63(6):1661-1672.

Pollock, C., J. T. Pokines, and J. Bethard (2018) Organic staining on bone from exposure to wood and other plant materials. Forensic Science International 283:200-210.

Pokines, J. T. (2018) Differential diagnosis of the taphonomic histories of common types of forensic osseous remains. Journal of Forensic Identification 68(1):87-145.

Pokines, J. T. and C. Pollock (2018) The small scavenger guild of Massachusetts, U.S.A. Forensic Anthropology 1(1):52-67.

Pokines, J. T., K. Faillace, J. Berger, D. Pirtle, M. Sharpe, A. Curtis, K. Lombardi, and J. Admans (2018) The effects of repeated wet-dry cycles as a component of bone weathering. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 17:433-441.

Newcomb, A., J. T. Pokines, and T. E. Moore (2017) Taphonomic effects of mechanical plowing on buried juvenile remains. Journal of Forensic Sciences 62(1):67-73.

Pokines, J. T., N. Appel, C. Pollock, C. J. Eck, A. G. Maki, A. S. Joseph, L. Cadwell, and C. D. Young (2017) Anatomical taphonomy at the source:  Alterations to a sample of 84 teaching skulls at a medical school. Journal of Forensic Identification 67(4):600-632.

Pokines, J. T., C. J. Eck, and M. E. Sharpe (2017) Sources of skeletal remains at a chief medical examiner’s office: Who finds the bones? Journal of Forensic Identification 67(2):278-299.

Pokines, J. T., R. Sussman, M. Gough, C. Ralston, E. McLeod, K. Brun, A. Kearns, and T. L. Moore (2017) Taphonomic analysis of Rodentia and Lagomorpha bone gnawing based upon incisor size. Journal of Forensic Sciences 62(1):50-66.

Yucha, J. P., J. T. Pokines, and E. J. Bartelink (2017) A comparative taphonomic analysis of 24 trophy skulls from modern forensic cases. Journal of Forensic Sciences 62(5):1266-1278.

Pokines, J. T., S. A. Santana, J. D. Hellar, P. Bian, A. Downs, N. Wells, and M. D. Price (2016) The taphonomic effects of eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) gnawing upon bone. Journal of Forensic Identification 66(4):349-375.

Pokines, J. T., R. E. King, D. D. Graham, A. K. Costello, D. M. Adams, J. M. Pendray, K. Rao, and D. S. Siwek (2016) The effects of experimental freeze-thaw cycles to bone as a component of subaerial weathering. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 6:594-602.

Pokines, J. T. and K. Springer (2016) A case of localized corrosion on bone caused by chemical contact. Journal of Forensic Identification 66(3):173-186.

Pokines, J. T. (2016) Taphonomic alterations to terrestrial surface-deposited human osseous remains in a New England, U.S.A. environment. Journal of Forensic Identification 66(1):59-78.

Pokines, J. T. and J. De La Paz (2016) Recovery rates of human fetal skeletal remains using varying mesh sizes. Journal of Forensic Sciences 61(S1):S184-S189.

Pokines, J. T., D. P. Zinni, and K. Crowley (2016) Taphonomic patterning of cemetery remains received at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Boston, Massachusetts. Journal of Forensic Sciences 61(S1):S71-S81.

Pokines, J. T. (2015) Taphonomic alterations by the rodent species woodland vole (Microtus pinetorum) upon human skeletal remains. Forensic Science International 257:e16-e19.

Pokines, J. T. (2015) Identification of nonhuman remains received in a medical examiner setting. Journal of Forensic Identification 65(3):223-246.

Pokines, J. T. (2015) Taphonomic characteristics of former anatomical teaching specimens received at a Medical Examiner’s office, MA. Journal of Forensic Identification 65(2):173-195.

Pokines, J. T. (2015) A procedure for processing outdoor surface forensic scenes yielding skeletal remains among leaf litter. Journal of Forensic Identification 65(2):161-172.

Pokines, J. T. (2015) A Santería/Palo Mayombe ritual cauldron containing a human skull and multiple artifacts recovered in western Massachusetts, U.S.A. Forensic Science International 248:e1-e7.

Pokines, J. T. and N. Higgs (2015) Macroscopic taphonomic alterations to human bone in marine environments. Journal of Forensic Identification 65(6):953-984.