Identifying the bones found at N.J. scenic overlook may be lengthy effort, expert says

A forensic anthropologist who has worked to identify hundreds of homicide and suicide victims based on parts of their skeleton says identifying a bag of bones found in Bergen County may be a long and arduous process for investigators.

One of the most difficult things to determine from just bones is how long ago the person died, Dr. Donna C. Boyd, board secretary and spokeswoman for the American Board of Forensic Anthropology said Wednesday.

“The longer it’s been the more difficult it is,” said Boyd, who routinely works with the FBI and police on human remains cases. She’s a professor of anthropology and co-director of the Radford University Forensic Science Institute in Virginia.

Snack stand employees found the plastic bag filled with bones of “suspected human remains” at about 8 a.m. Monday hanging on the door of a the stand at the Stateline Lookout in Alpine. The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office Cold Case Unit and the county’s medical examiner’s office is investigating, authorities said.

The prosecutor’s office has not commented on the case beyond a press release issued on Monday.

Boyd said it’s likely the county has called in a forensic anthropologist to study the remains. The first step – determining whether the bones are human – involves looking for evidence of walking upright, she said.

“We know what each human bone looks like and we know what its animal counterpart looks like,” she said. “That’s relatively easy.”

Another early step is maceration, a technique where soft tissue is removed from the bones. said. Maceration is necessary because decaying flesh on the bone may obscure visible evidence, such as stab marks or bullet wounds, Boyd said.

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