Kari Bruwelheide is a physical and forensic anthropologist at the National Museum of Natural History. She studies human bones and mummified remains for clues about who people were, how they lived, and how they died. This work includes lab analysis, body search and recovery in forensic cases, and field excavation at archaeological sites. Kari earned her B.A. from Luther College in Iowa, with majors in both English and Anthropology. Professors encouraged her to pursue a graduate degree in Anthropology. It was then, through volunteer projects working with large skeletal collections, that she discovered her fascination with human bones and the information they contain. After earning a Master’s degree in Physical Anthropology from the University of Nebraska and studying mummies in Peru, she came to work at the Smithsonian.
Today, her research is varied and ranges from forensic casework for law enforcement agencies, to studying remains from 19th century cast iron coffins, to the examination of ancient skeletons as old as 10,000 years. Currently Kari’s work is focused on the documentation of early European and African human remains in the Americas, specifically in the Chesapeake region of Virginia and Maryland. By studying these skeletons, the unwritten records of early immigrants and slaves are slowly being compiled giving us an expanded view of settlement, health, and adaptation, at both the personal and population level. Kari loves being able to tell the stories of people who can no longer speak for themselves.
- Museum Specialist, National Museum of Natural History
- Chesapeake Bay Geographic Region
Background And Education
Awards And Honors
- Cross Botany Medal , conferred by Historic St. Mary's City, 2016
- Secretary's Research Prize, 2010
Research And Grants
My research has an emphasis on forensic examination of modern and historic remains including skeletal studies of 17th and 18th-century American colonists, free and enslaved persons of African ancestry in America, 19th-century iron coffin burials, and Civil War military remains.
My research is currently focused on human skeletal remains found in the Chesapeake region of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware from the early colonial period. The results of this research were presented in an exhibition at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History entitled “Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th-Century Chesapeake” (2009 - 2014).
- France, Christine A. M., Owsley, Douglas W., Bruwelheide, Karin S., Renschler, Emily S., Barca, Kathryn G., and DeCorse, Christopher R. 2020. "Stable isotopes from the African site of Elmina, Ghana and their usefulness in tracking the provenance of enslaved individuals in 18th‐ and 19th‐century North American populations." American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 171, (2) 298–318. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.23946. 2024
- Harney, Éadaoin, Olalde, Iñigo, Bruwelheide, Kari, Barca, Kathryn G., Curry, Roslyn, Comer, Elizabeth, Rohland, Nadin, Owsley, Douglas, and Reich, David. 2022. "Technical Report on Ancient DNA analysis of 27 African Americans from Catoctin Furnace, Maryland." Preprint, https://doi.org/10.1101/2022.06.12.495320. 2022
- Fleskes, Raquel E., Bruwelheide, Karin S., West, Frankie L., Owsley, Douglas W., Griffith, Daniel R., Barca, Kathryn G., Cabana, Graciela S., and Schurr, Theodore G. 2019. "Ancient DNA and bioarchaeological perspectives on European and African diversity and relationships on the colonial Delaware frontier." American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.23887. 2019
- Bruwelheide, Karin S., Owsley, Douglas W., Barca, Kathryn G., France, Christine A. M., Little, Nicole C., and Comer, Elizabeth Anderson. 2019. "Restoring Identity to People and Place: Reanalysis of Human Skeletal Remains from a Cemetery at Catoctin Furnace, Maryland." Historical Archaeology, 1–28. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41636-019-00214-7. 2019
- Somerville, Andrew D., Goldstein, Paul S., Baitzel, Sarah I., Bruwelheide, Karin L., Dahlstedt, Allisen C., Yzurdiaga, Linda, Raubenheimer, Sarah, Knudson, Kelly J., and Schoeninger, Margaret J. 2015. "Diet and gender in the Tiwanaku colonies: Stable isotope analysis of human bone collagen and apatite from Moquegua, Peru." American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 159, (3) 408–422. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.22795. 2015
- Owsley, Douglas W., Bruwelheide, Karin S., Cashion Lugo, M. A., and Spradley, M. K. 2015. "Identification of Ramón Power Y Giralt: Puerto Rico's Diplomat to the 1812 Spanish Constitutional Court." Centro Journal, XXVII 178–207. 2015
- Late-Nineteenth-Century Crow Mummies from Montana. Skeletal Biology and Bioarchaeology of the Northwestern Plains. 77-93. 2008
- Military Burials at Cantonment Missouri, 1819-1829 and Fort Atkinson. Skeletal Biology and Bioarchaeology of the Northwestern Plains. 128-142. 2008
- Bruwelheide, Karin S. and Owsley, Douglas W. 2007. "Written in Bone: Reading the Remains of the 17th Century." AnthroNotes, 28, (2) 8–14. 2007
- Owsley, Douglas W., Bruwelheide, Karin S., Barca, Kathryn G., Reidy, Susan K., and Fleskes, Raquel E. 2018. "Lives Lost: What Burial Vault Studies Reveal about Eighteenth-Century Identities." In Bioarchaeological Analyses and Bodies: New ways of knowing anatomical and skeletal collections. Stone, Pamela K., editor. Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature. In Bioarchaeology and Social Theory. 2018
- Bruwelheide, Karin S., Owsley, Douglas W., Straube, Beverly A., and May, Jamie E. 2017. "Evidence for Early Seventeenth-Century Surgery and Dissection at James Fort, Virginia." In The Bioarchaeology of Dissection and Autopsy in the United States. Nystrom, Kenneth C., editor. 41–60. Springer International Publishing. In Bioarchaeology and Social Theory. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-26836-1_3. 2017
- Owsley, Douglas W., Bruwelheide, Karin S., Jantz, Richard L., Koste, Jodi L., and Outlaw, Merry. 2017. "Skeletal Evidence of Anatomical and Surgical Training in Nineteenth-Century Richmond." In The Bioarchaeology of Dissection and Autopsy in the United States. Nystrom, Kenneth C., editor. 143–164. Springer International Publishing. In Bioarchaeology and Social Theory. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-26836-1_7. 2017
- Bruwelheide, Karin S., Schlachtmeyer, Sandra S., Owsley, Douglas W., Simon, Vicki E., Aufderheide, Arthur C., Cartmell, Larry W., and Swanson, Stephan J. 2017. "Unearthing Robert Kennicott: Naturalist, Explorer, Smithsonian Scientist." In Studies in Forensic Biohistory: Anthropological Perspectives. Stojanowski, Christopher M. and Duncan, W. N., editors. 92–123. Cambridge University Press. 2017
- Cashion Lugo, M. A., Owsley, Douglas W., Bruwelheide, Karin S., and Spradley, M. K. 2015. "Don Ramón Power y Giralt: Disputado de las Cortes de Cadiz de 1812." In Proceedings of the 25th International Congress for Caribbean Archeology. 870–892. Puerto Rico: International Congress for Caribbean Archeology. 2015
- Bruwelheide, Karin S. and Owsley, Douglas W. 2014. "Identity through science and art." In Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton. Owsley, Douglas W. and Jantz, Richard L., editors. 519–534. College Station: Texas A&M University Press. In Peopling of the Americas Publications. 2014
- Owsley, Douglas W., Williams, Aleithea A., and Bruwelheide, Karin S. 2014. "Skeletal inventory, morphology, and pathology." In Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton. Owsley, Douglas W. and Jantz, Richard L., editors. 139–186. College Station: Texas A&M University Press. In Peopling of the Americas Publications. 2014
- Owsley, Douglas W., Bruwelheide, Karin S., and Burgess, Laurie E. 2008. "Late-Nineteenth-Century Crow Mummies from Montana." In Skeletal Biology and Bioarchaeology of the Northwestern Plains. Gill, George W. and Weathermon, Rick L., editors. 77–93. Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press. 2008
- Owsley, Douglas W., Bruwelheide, Karin S., Burgess, Laurie E., and Billeck, William T. 2007. "Human Finger and Hand Bone Necklaces from the Plains and Great Basin." In The Taking and Displaying of Human Body Parts as Trophies by Amerindians. Chacon, Richard J. and Dye, David H., editors. 124–166. New York: Springer. 2007
- National Museum of Natural History Academic Department