In the US, documented skeletal collections are a collective of human skeletons that originated (mostly) from body donations, human taphonomy facilities (e.g., the William M. Bass Donated Skeletal Collection), and anatomical dissections (e.g., Robert J. Terry Anatomical Collection). These collections are a major asset in the testing and development of methods used to infer the biological profile of human remains.
Documented skeletal collections are intimately related to the development of American forensic sciences, specifically forensic and biological anthropology. Some of these collections include the well-known Robert J. Terry Anatomical Collection and the William M. Bass Donated Skeletal Collection. Most of the human skeletons incorporated into these collections come mostly from body donations, cadaver dissections, medical schools, and private collections. The collections are composed of varied body elements that include complete to almost complete skeletons, specific anatomical regions, e.g., single bones, some related to pathological skeletal specimens.
The conceptualization behind the origins of documented skeletal collections is correlated with the mentoring relationship among different generations of anatomists and anthropologists . Alongside the interest in building the collections for teaching, many collections had an underlying intention in line with the attempt to assembly enough specimens representative of human morphological variability. George S. Huntington and Sir William Turne mentored Robert J. Terry who was responsible for the implementation of the R. J. Terry Anatomical Collection in 1910 . Huntington, when at Columbia University collected between 7000 and 8000 human skeletons from unclaimed individuals between 1893 and 1921 . This is representative of the interest in documented collections in US high education institutions. Nowadays, circa 3070 partial skeletons that remained from the Huntington Collection are housed at the National Museum of Natural History . There are many other collections built with unclaimed skeletonized human remains. However, from1968, and in the aftermath of the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA), which standardized the anatomical laws across the US, many modern documented skeletal collections began to be built via body donation programs. People began to leave their bodies for science and/or transplants after death , giving rise to the growth and development of many more documented skeletal collections.