Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History logo

Osteoware: Standardized Skeletal Documentation Software

Osteoware: Standardized Skeletal Documentation Software


Peri- and postmortem events and processes, such as burial, surface exposure, animal activity, and cultural behavior (intentional disarticulation, cremation, et cetera), may be inferred through the careful observation of bone surface characteristics. The Osteoware Taphonomy module provides check boxes and radio buttons for a variety of taphonomic variables to prompt the observer to conduct a comprehensive documentation of skeletal remains.

  • Check boxes and radio buttons prompt standardized data entry.
  • Bone weathering stages appear in the 'Help' menu window.
  • Enter detailed descriptions into the Comments text field, with spell-checker.

The Osteoware Taphonomy module data entry screen.

The Taphonomy module is composed of one data entry screen organized into the following data fields: bone color, adherent materials, staining, bone condition (weathering), surface damage, and cultural and curation modifications. The bone weathering stages of Behrensmeyer (1978), as slightly modified in “Standards”, appear by clicking the Help button in the upper right corner. A large Comments text field, with spell-checker, is also provided for composing detailed quantitative and qualitative descriptions, such as documenting the range and location of weathering damage on the remains.

The Osteoware module generally follows the taphonomy standards in Buikstra and Ubelaker (1994), however the use of Munsell Charts for recording precise color was found to be ineffective due to the enormous variation in color displayed over a skeleton, or even a single bone in some instances. Therefore a simplified color list is provided, and if desired the Munsell value(s) may be entered in the Comments text field.

This sacrum and L5 are from different catalog numbers, but were reassociated based on consistent taphonomy and arthritic alterations to the apophyseal joints.

While the researcher will rely on visual observations (using 5 to 10x magnification or higher when required) it is advisable to also utilize radiographs, UV light, x-ray fluorescence detection (XRF), and CT scanning when available. Remember to also request photographic documentation of all unusual taphonomic alterations.


Buikstra, J.E. and D.H. Ubelaker. Standards for Data Collection From the Human Skeletal Remains. Arkansas Archaeological Survey Research Series No. 44. Arkansas Archaeological Survey: Fayetteville, 1994.