Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute

Steven A. Symes, Ph.D., D.A.B.F.A.

Associate Professor, Applied Forensic Sciences and Anthropology
Department of Applied Forensic Sciences

Office: Zurn 119B
Phone: (814) 824-3369
Fax: (814) 824-3627
E-mail: ssymes@mercyhurst.edu
Website: http://symesforensics.com/

Education

  • University of South Dakota, B.A., 1976
  • University of Tennessee, M.A., 1983
  • University of Tennessee, Ph. D., 1992

Courses

  • Forensic Photography (Frsc 250)
  • Forensic Anthropology (Anth 242)
  • Human Skeletal Profile (Anth 530/531)
  • Modification of the Human Skeleton (Anth 540/541)
  • Skeletal Trauma Analysis (Anth 630/631)

Biography

Dr. Symes, best known for his expertise in interpreting trauma to bone and as a leading authority on saw and knife mark analysis, brings 30 years of experience to his position as associate professor of anthropology at Mercyhurst.

As one of less than 90 forensic anthropologists in North America certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, and one of only two in Pennsylvania (Mercyhurst’s Dr. Dirkmaat, the other); Dr. Symes is a sought-after consultant in criminal cases. His specialty in criminal dismemberment and mutilation has led him to consult on a number of serial homicides, notable among them Crown vs. Paul Bernardo (Symes 1998), a serial abduction/murder near Toronto. Further, he has provided analysis of cut marks in nearly 200 dismemberment and 400 knife wound cases.

Dr. Symes 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 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.”

Before coming to Mercyhurst in 2003, 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 of Dr. William M. Bass, founder of the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

In 2008, Dr. Symes was named a recipient of the T. Dale Stewart Award for lifetime achievement, the highest honor bestowed by the Physical Anthropology Section of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

Current Research Interests & Projects

Dr. Symes's interests and research include human skeletal biology and trauma anaylsis, with an emphasis forensic tool mark analysis and interpretation of fracture patterns in bone. His expertise in trauma includes: saw and knife marks in bone and cartilage in cases of violent death (dismemberment and mutilation), blunt force, ballistic, burn, and healing bone trauma. Additional interests include prehistoric, historic, and recent taphonomic influences on bone, bloodstain pattern analysis, and crime scene, digital, and 35 mm photography.

Recent Publications

Reprints available upon request
(*) with graduate students

Overbury RS, LL Cabo, DC Dirkmaat and SA Symes (in press): Asymmetry of the Os Pubis: Implications for the Suchey-Brooks Method. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol., 8pp (*)

Dirkmaat, DC, LL Cabo, SD Ousley, and SA Symes (2008). New Perspectives in Forensic Anthropology. Yearbook Phys. Anthrop. 51: 33-52.

Symes, SA, CW Rainwater, EN Chapman, DR Gipson, and AL Piper (2008). Patterned Thermal Destruction of Human Remains. The Analysis of Burned Human Remains. CW Schmidt and SA Symes, Eds. Elsevier Press, New York. (*)

Recent Workshops

Symes, SA (2008). Workshop on Bone Trauma: for Annual Meeting of FACE (Forensic Anthropology Society of Europe), a section of the International Academy of Legal Medicine, September. Sponsored by Pr Eric Baccino, in Edinbough, UK.

Symes, SA (Co-participant) (2007). Symposium on the 4th Era of Forensic Anthropology. Conducted at the 59th annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, San Antonio, TX.

Symes, SA (Co-contributor) (2007). Sister Margaret Ann Pahl Toolmark Analysis. Proving a Priest Killed a Nun: The Role of Forensic Science in Successfully Resolving a 26-Year-Old Cold Case. Workshop presented to the 59th annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, San Antonio, TX.

Symes, SA, CW Rainwater, SMT Myster, and EN Chapman (2007). Knife and Saw Mark Analysis on Bone. Workshop presented to the annual meeting of the Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners, San Francisco, CA. May 29.

Symes, SA, CW Rainwater, SMT Myster, and EN Chapman (2006). Knife and Saw Toolmark Analysis in Bone: Research Designed for the Examination and Interpretation of Criminal Mutilation and Dismemberment. Workshop presented to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Minnesota State Crime Laboratory, St. Paul, MN. November 16.

Symes, SA, CW Rainwater, SMT Myster, and EN Chapman (2006). Knife and Saw Toolmark Analysis in Bone: Research Designed for the Examination and Interpretation of Criminal Mutilation and Dismemberment. Workshop presented to The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s toolmark and firearms personnel, Quantico, VA. December 15.

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