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Osteology Body Donation Program


The Laboratory of Human Osteology at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology accepts the donation of skeletal remains to our Documented Skeletal Collection to be used in scientific research. All of the forms required for donation can be found here.

Donor Frequently Asked Questions

Thank you for considering the donation of your skeletal remains to the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology's Laboratory of Human Osteology. We hope the following information will answer some of the questions you have regarding the process.

For all other questions, please call (505) 277-3535 or e-mail us at

Decision to Donate

Can I be an organ donor and donate my skeletal remains to your lab? - Yes. Organ donation does not affect the skeletal remains. You will need to set up your organ donation contract separately, however. In the state of New Mexico, call Donor Services at (505) 843-7672 to get an application.

Can I donate my body to a medical school and donate my skeletal remains to your lab? - At the present time, we cannot accept the skeletal remains from medical school cadavers. If it is your wish to donate to the UNM Medical School cadaver program, please call (505) 272-5555. Please be aware that cadaver programs may decline donations due to traumatic injury, autopsy, extensive surgery, and some terminal illnesses. Several of our donors have chosen to rank their donation priorities: first to a cadaver program and, if rejected, to our program. We make note of this when we receive completed paperwork from possible donors.

What conditions might cause the refusal of the donation of my body to the anthropology program? - We are required by law to refuse individuals with blood-borne diseases such as HIV, AIDS, Ebola, and Hepatitis A, B, or C. These diseases can be transferred during the rendering process.

What paperwork is involved in donating my body?

We will provide a packet that you need to return to us. You can also access the forms online. The first form is a legal document that certifies you are of sound mind and are donating your remains of your own free will. You and two witnesses need to sign this document. The second form is a donor information sheet that asks questions such as your date of birth, your primary occupation, location of any broken bones, your typical physical activity level, etc. This information is important for us because it will provide researchers with a full background. The final form is a casting permissions form. Once we have your completed paperwork on file, we will send you a donor card to carry with you. 

Return completed forms by mail to:

Laboratory of Human Osteology
Maxwell Museum of Anthropology
MSC01 1050
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87131

 Or by fax:  (505) 277-1547


Is it necessary to have two witnesses, and do the witnesses need to be related to me?
Yes, two witnesses are required to sign your donor form and card. They do not, however, have to be related to you. Many donors ask friends or family members, but you may also get two notary publics to sign and stamp the form.

Can I change my mind about donation after I have signed the forms?
Yes. At any time you may submit a written and signed statement to the Maxwell Museum’s Laboratory of Human Osteology requesting that your donation be nullified and the original forms returned to you.

I have the power of attorney for my relative. Can I make the decision to donate him/her upon their death?
Yes. We will need a copy of the legal statement giving you power of attorney, along with the donor forms signed by you and two witnesses.

What if I move to another place after I've submitted my donor forms?
If you move, please call our lab at (505) 277-3535 to give us your new address. You may also send us your new address through the mail.

What if I break a bone, or need to update my form in some manner after I've submitted it?
We will be occasionally sending you a form to update your information. You can also call us or contact us through mail or email.

Donation Process

​​What happens when I pass away?
Depending on where you are when you pass away (hospital, home, care facility), you will need to be transported to the Office of the Medical Investigator in Albuquerque, NM. In cases of traumatic or suspicious deaths, the Office of the Medical Investigator is required by law to perform an autopsy on your body, so your body will be transported directly to their facility. If the death was not traumatic or suspicious, the Office of the Medical Investigator may not need to conduct an autopsy. In these cases, your estate or family will need to arrange and pay for the transport of the body to the Office of the Medical Investigator. In New Mexico, this can be done by calling New Mexico Mortuary Services at (505) 764-9663.

I live outside of New Mexico. What will I need to do to have my body sent to the Office of the Medical Investigator?
If you are residing outside New Mexico, it is especially important that you notify family or friends of your intention to donate your body to our program. Depending on the state, your body may or may not undergo an autopsy by that state's medical examiner. In either case, it is up to your estate or your family to make arrangements and pay for transportation to New Mexico. Please note that we cannot accept embalmed remains.

​What expenses involved in the donation of my body are my family or estate responsible for?
Transportation costs to the Office of the Medical Investigator in Albuquerque, NM must be covered by your family or estate. For transportation services and fees, please call New Mexico Mortuary Services at (505) 764-9663.

​Should my family or estate assume the expense of a conventional funeral or memorial service before donating my body to your collection?
The embalming chemicals used by funeral homes harm the skeleton, so we cannot receive bodies treated for preservation. If your family would like to have a memorial service or funeral, please make sure they understand that your body cannot be preserved. You might suggest that a memorial service does not require your body to be present, so this might be an acceptable alternative to embalming.

​What is involved in the actual preparation of my skeleton for your lab?
Through a weeks-long maceration process that takes place at the Office of the Medical Investigator, the soft tissue is removed from the skeleton. Once fully skeletonized, the remains are moved to the Laboratory's repository, where each individual skeleton is housed in an archival-grade box.

​What will happen to the rest (non-skeletal portions) of my remains?
Your non-skeletal remains will be disposed of by the Office of the Medical Investigator.

Will my family receive any remains that they can bury or cremate?
At this time, we do not provide family with any remains for burial.

​I would like to be cremated and then donated to your program. Can I do that?
We can accept cremated remains, but prior to the cremation process you need to request that the remains only be burned and not ground. Even though the fires in a crematorium get very hot, they do not completely destroy bone. Crematoriums grind the remaining material into a fine powder for the family, but if you still wish to donate your remains, we must have the skeletal remains before they are ground into a powder.

​Who has access to my remains once they are stored in your repository?
As with all of our skeletal collections, permission is required from the Laboratory Director for researchers who wish to study the remains of our body donors. Only legitimate, non-destructive analyses may be performed, and all researchers agree to abide by a set of rules that ensure proper handling and care of the skeletal remains. In the past, faculty members and graduate students in the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, as well as other institutions, have used the collection of donated bodies for research projects. In addition, family members are allowed to view the remains of their loved one upon request.

Informing Your Family

If my family does not want to have me donated, how can I ensure they do not block my donation after death?​​ 

​Probably the best way to ensure your wishes are honored is to inform a number of people, including family, friends, and/or your attorney. Many of our donors include a clause in their wills specifying their wishes, but in some cases, wills are not opened until weeks after the intended donor has passed away. Remember, this is a legal contract between you and our laboratory, witnessed by two individuals, and subject to the Jonathan Spradling Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (Article 6B of Chapter 24 of The New Mexico Statutes and Amendments). Legally, your family cannot prevent you from donating your remains once you have signed this contract.

​My family wants me to have a full funeral with a viewing prior to donation. Are there any special procedures they need to follow?
We cannot receive embalmed bodies because these chemicals damage the skeletal remains. If your family would like to have a memorial service or funeral, please make sure they understand that your body cannot be preserved.

​My family is upset about the idea of not having ANY remains to bury or cremate. How can I alleviate their concerns?
You can tell your family and friends that your skeletal remains are going to be used for scientific teaching and research, which will contribute to our knowledge of the processes of aging, disease, and occupational effects on the skeleton. Stress that you want this to happen, and that you feel this is the best use for your remains. If they understand that donation is important to you, they will probably feel less concerned. Also, just because there are no remains to be buried or scattered does not mean that your family and friends cannot have a memorial service to celebrate your life. They are also allowed to visit your skeletal remains after the rendering process is complete.

​Who fills out my death certificate?
If your body is autopsied at the Office of the Medical Investigator, they will complete the death certificate. If your body is not autopsied, our lab takes care of this. Once the death certificate is complete, it is filed with the New Mexico Vital Records Office in Santa Fe, NM.

​Who does my family contact to obtain a copy of the death certificate?
If you die in the State of New Mexico, your family should contact the New Mexico Bureau of Vital Records. The address and telephone number are:

Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics
Department of Health/P.H.D.
1105 S. St. Francis Drive
Santa Fe, NM 87502-6110
(505) 827-0121

The cost for each copy of the death certificate is $5.00, and cash is not accepted. Please be sure your family members have identification. For additional information, please visit the Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics website:

If you die in another state, your relatives will need to contact the vital records office in that state.

​Is it possible for my family to visit my remains in your lab?
Yes. As soon as the rendering process is complete, they will be able to view the remains. We ask that they call our lab to arrange an appointment so that we can set aside a quiet corner of our lab and lay out your skeletal remains.