Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker

Bibliographic Citation: Walker, Sally M. Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 2009. 144p. ISBN: 9780822571353.

Awards/Selection Lists:

ALSC Notable Books list

Author’s Website:



Sally M. Walker’s Written in Bone follows forensic scientists as they excavate graves in Jamestown and Colonial Maryland.

Personal Reaction:

A skeletal human body is found in the cellar of an excavated plantation home in what was Providence, Maryland. The body belonged to a male about 15 or 16 years old at the time of his death. He was most likely an indentured servant, and he’d led a life of difficult labor. Suffering from a serious infection, the boy had probably met a violent end. He’d died sometime between 1662 and 1670. But how do we know so much about his life? After all, all we have to go off of is a skeleton.

As examined in Sally M. Walker’s Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland, scientists are able to use forensics to sketch a portrait of a long dead person’s life. The aforementioned boy is just one example of the many lives uncovered by Dr. Douglas Owsley and his team of forensic scientists. Dr. Owsley and his team use a variety of scientific methods to estimate a skeleton’s gender, the age at which they died, the way in which they died, their social class, their general health at the time of their death, etc. In Written in Bone, Walker uses the work of forensic scientists as well has historical context to provide readers with an accurate picture of what life was like in Jamestown and Colonial Maryland. Walker’s book includes many photographs, maps, diagrams, charts, and other images that greatly enhance her text. The book is thorough, though not overly scientific, making it a great resource for young adult readers.

Front Matter:

Dedication page, TOC, “A Note to the Reader”

Back Matter:

Source notes, Timeline, Selected bibliography, Further reading and websites, “Author’s acknowledgments,” Index, About the author, photo acknowledgments


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