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(INDIANAPOLIS) –  Human bones found in Bedford last week are far from the only skeleton Indiana authorities are trying to identify.

A federal database says 29 sets of skeletal remains have turned up in Indiana over the last 40 years and are still unidentified. Six times that many Hoosiers have disappeared in that time.

Without tissue and organs to work with, it’s harder to determine a cause of death, but not always impossible. UIndy anthropologist Christopher Schmidt isn’t involved in the Bedford investigation, but says forensic anthropologists would look at both the condition of the remains, and how they were found. Bones scattered around an area tell a different story from an intact skeleton. And Schmidt says if bones are damaged, an anthropologist can determine if that damage was done while the person was still alive, or occurred when animals got to the body or farm equipment ran over it. 

The length and condition of certain bones can tell you the person’s sex and roughly how old he was. Most skeletal remains in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System offer a 20-year age range, but the pace of human development means younger victims can be pegged to a narrower range. And Schmidt says signs of exposure to the elements or the insects that are drawn to decaying bodies can tell you how long the body was there.

(Photo: Hutton Archive/Getty Images)