Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name

Anthropology (Forensic Anthropology Option)

Other Degree Name/Area of Focus

Molecular Anthropology

Department or School/College

Department of Anthropology

Committee Chair

Meradeth Snow

Commitee Members

Anna Prentiss, Randall Skelton, Joe Pasternak, Chris Palmer


aDNA, Bone Tissue, Forensic Anthropology, Forensic DNA, Molecular Anthropology, Paleoanthropology


University of Montana


We know that the optimal site for DNA extraction from human skeletal remains lies primarily in the petrous portion of the crania, and secondarily in the dental pulp, but we do not know why. As for the optimal location in the post-crania, targeted extraction sites are based on experience or inference, not empirical data. So, where to sample for DNA when only post-cranial elements are available? There are many instances where the petrous and/or teeth are not present or cannot be sampled. The three main goals of the project are 1- develop our foundational knowledge of the underlying cellular and biochemical reasons behind differential DNA preservation, 2- develop a minimally destructive sampling method, and 3- to construct a guide for forensic and biological anthropologists to determine which post-cranial elements to use for optimal DNA extraction. Pinpointing the ideal sites for the DNA extraction process will be advantageous when limited elements are available. Over 200 sites will be sampled from across a skeleton (obtained through the Montana State Crime Lab) and quantified for the number of starting molecules of both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA. Additionally, the 21 CODIS markers will be tested to see which sampling locations and bone types afford more complete STR profiles. Uniquely, this project will: 1) utilize knowledge of the cellular components and biochemical processes specific to the growth and maintenance of bones to target specific sites on skeletal elements for optimal DNA extraction, 2) incorporate knowledge of cell types to investigate the specific type of bone (cortical or trabecular) that is best for sampling at that site, 3) design and construct a visual “heat map” of the human post-cranial skeleton for use in both forensic DNA and ancient DNA (aDNA) laboratories.



© Copyright 2022 Keith M. Biddle