Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name

Anthropology (Forensic Anthropology Option)

Other Degree Name/Area of Focus

Biological Anthropology

Department or School/College

Department of Anthropology

Committee Chair

Meradeth Snow

Commitee Members

Randall Skelton, Kirsten Green-Mink, Christopher Palmer, Joe Adserias


Burned Human Remains, Classification Systems, Fatal Fire Deaths, Forensic Anthropology, Taphonomy


University of Montana


Fatal fires produce a range of physical alterations to the body that can be studied and analyzed to interpret perimortem events. Currently, the forensic community lacks a consistent, objective, and detailed scale to describe burn injuries or patterns in a variety of settings and conditions. There is a need to create a scale based on quantitative experimental data (e.g. duration and temperature of fire) that provides insight into the nature of the fire and cause of injuries contributing to the condition of the remains.

Observations from four main fire environments were used in developing a new classification system for analyzing heat related damage. This new classification system covered both soft tissue and skeletal changes and will be beneficial to the medico-legal community in standardizing the description of burned remains. It will also prove important in reconstructing events involved in fatal fires and will aid investigators building a legal case. Prior to this study, there has been no attempt to standardize the description of burned remains and quantify the amount of thermal damage observed. Previous models were constructed from specific fire environments, and therefore not widely applicable to the forensic community. This research laid the groundwork for applying a more quantitative approach to analyzing and interpreting burned human remains. The information gained from this study can be used to better predict when these physical alterations may occur on the human body, and from what fire environments the remains likely were recovered. More importantly, it enhances our understanding of the underlying processes that affect thermal alterations.



© Copyright 2020 Amanda Noel Williams