Forensics Activity: The Mystery of the Bones

activity sheet

The “Mystery of the Bones” activity is probably my most accessed page, which is weird because it really was one of my very first. I finally got around to updating this resource! Now, the page directs you to choose either a google doc file or a google slides version so that students can do the activity in-person or online.

Like the first version, the activity still sets a scene where skeletal remains were discovered at a lake. Students collect data on paper and digital models to determine which skeleton belonged to which missing person.

In the first task, students recreate a skeleton from a paper or digital model. This task simply involves organizing the bones into a skeleton.

Next, students determine which bones are male and female by looking at the pelvis and skull. A wider pelvis indicates a female. A skull with a large mastoid process indicates a male.

The next task also focuses on the skull to determine the race of the person. Students read descriptions that compare the three races used in forensic science.

To determine the height of the skeleton, students measure the femur on a model use use a formula to calculate the height. This is a simplified version, so advise students that the height may not match up exactly. For a more detailed lesson, check out this activity on estimating height from bones.

After compiling all the data, students should be able to match each skeleton to a missing person. I recommend students assemble the skeleton individually (one per student), then do the analysis questions as a group.

Student Objectives:

Reconstruct the remains found at the site
  • Determine sex of the skeleton based on the pelvis and skull
  • Determine the race of the skeleton based on the shape of the skull
  • Calculate the height of the person based on the length of the femur
  • Explore how the skull can be used to determine age
  • Gain an appreciation for field work in forensic science

Suggestion: Use the class skeleton to create a mock “crime scene” in the class to introduce the activity!

This version has been updated, October 2021