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Department of Anthropology

Dr Ortner in tome
Dr Ortner in his office


Donald J. Ortner, Ph.D., D.Sc.

Biological Anthropologist

The Department of Anthropology is deeply saddened at the loss of a long-time colleague who began his career in the department in the early 1960s. Articles about Don’s contributions to the museum and to his field can be read in the department newsletter, Anthropolog.

Division: Physical Anthropology

Area of Specialization:
Calcified tissue
biology and the effect of disease on
human evolution


Honorary D.Sc. degree from the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom
Ph.D. degree from the University of Kansas

Professional Activities:

Acting director of the National Museum of Natural History (1994-1996)
Chairman of the Department of Anthropology (1988-1992)
Visiting Professor in the Department of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Bradford, Bradford, England

He has served on several boards and review panels most recently as vice-chairman of the Bioarchaeology Panel, The Wellcome Trust, London.  From (1999 to 2001), he was president of the Paleopathology Association, an international  scientific society of more than 600 members that promotes the study of ancient disease.  He is currently on the editorial boards of three scientific journals.

Research Interests/Profile:

He has done field work in Jordan and has conducted research projects in the United States, Europe, and Australia. His major research interest is in human adaptation but he has a specific interest in calcified tissue biology and the effect of disease on human evolution during the Holocene. The latter interest includes a focus on the impact of major developments in human society, such as sedentism, urbanism and the development of agriculture, on human health.  He has been conducting research on disease in archeological human skeletal remains for more than forty years. He is currently conducting research on the antiquity of infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and brucellosis, for which domestic animals are an intermediate host.

Selected Publications:

Dr. Ortner is the author of more than 125 scientific papers many of which are on the subject of human disease.  He is the coauthor of Identification of Pathological Conditions in Human Skeletal Remains (1981) a second edition of which was published by Academic Press in January 2003.  He organized and edited the proceedings of the Smithsonian Institution's Seventh International Symposium on How Humans Adapt: A Biocultural Odyssey (1983) and co-edited Human Paleopathology (1991).  His most recent book is The Early Bronze Age I Tombs and Burials of Bâb edh-Dhrâ‘, Jordan (2008) coauthored with Bruno Frohlich and published by AltaMira Press. The next major book project will be a comprehensive review of the bioarchaeological evidence of disease and an exploration of how disease has affected human societies during the Holocene.

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