Steven Symes Steven A. Symes, PhD, DABFA is a U.S. forensic anthropologist best known for his expertise in interpreting trauma to bone and a leading authority on saw and knife mark analysis. With 30 years experience, he has assisted federal, state, local, and international authorities in the identification and analysis of human remains.

A sought-after consultant in criminal cases, Dr. Symes has been qualified as an expert for both the prosecution and defense, testifying specifically on forensic tool mark and fracture pattern interpretation in bone, as well as blunt force, ballistic, burned and healing trauma in bone. As a result of his specialty in criminal dismemberment and mutilation, he has worked a number of serial homicides, and has provided analysis of cut marks in nearly 200 dismemberment cases and roughly 500 knife wound cases.

Dr. Symes is one of less than 90 forensic anthropologists certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology and recently retired from the Board of Directors. He has lectured, consulted or testified on trauma cases, among them high-profile human rights cases, in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Peru, El Salvador, Indonesia, Kosovo, South Africa and Europe. In addition, he has authored more than 50 publications and delivered over 100 papers, lectures and workshops on a variety of forensic anthropology topics. He is co-editor of “The Analysis of Burned Human Remains,” a reference book for osteologists and the medico-legal community for understanding burned bone remains in forensic and archaeological contexts.

In 2003, Dr. Symes joined the faculty of the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., where he is an associate professor in a master’s degree program in forensic and biological anthropology and an undergraduate program in applied forensic sciences. Dr. Symes’ current research, supported by the National Institute of Justice, involves establishing a gold standard methodology for analyzing saw and knife marks in bone. A recent NIJ-supported project focuses on establishing protocols to distinguish between bone trauma caused by fire and trauma that precedes a fatal fire scene as a means of more accurately determining how a victim died and whether foul play was involved.

Before coming to Mercyhurst, Dr. Symes spent 16 years as forensic anthropologist for the medical examiner’s office at the Regional Forensic Center for Shelby County, Tennessee. He has been involved with hands-on forensic anthropology since 1979, when he became the graduate assistant to Dr. William M. Bass, founder of the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Both Dr. Symes’ master’s and doctoral degrees in physical anthropology were earned at UT, Knoxville. 

In 2008, Dr. Symes was chosen to participate in the prestigious Fulbright Senior Specialists Program, training students and professionals to perform forensic anthropology in Lima, Peru.  Also that year, he earned the Thomas Dale Stewart Award for lifetime achievement, the highest honor offered by the Physical Anthropology Section of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS).


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