William Belcher
Associate Professor Anthropology


I am a board-certified forensic anthropologist, but also an environmental archaeologist with a specialty in animal bones from archaeological sites-zooarchaeology. I am interested in understanding the application of forensic anthropological methods to the identification of human remains. These are important to the families and friends of descendants as forensic anthropology brings the identification back to a family for closure of an emotion and situation of loss. We attempt to recover possible human remains restore the identity to loved ones through research-based forensic science. As the Coordinator for the Graduate Certificate in Forensic Anthropology and the Undergraduate Forensic Concentration, I welcome students at the undergraduate and graduate level to learn the identification techniques and processes as a service-based discipline as UNL.

Research and Current Projects

I have worked in two disparate areas of research, one as an environmental archaeologist and the other as a forensic anthropologist/archaeologist. My environmental archaeology program focuses on the analysis of ancient (3rd and 4th millennium BCE) fish remains and their modern counterparts. This will allow us to examine significant changes in fishing, butchery, ancient trade, as well as climate change. My forensic archaeology/anthropology research focuses on refining archaeological methods in forensic investigation and examining the decomposition process through actualistic studies.

After retiring from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in 2019, my primary focus at UNL is to provide opportunities to learn and conduct research related to the identification of missing US service members in conjunction with the Scientific Analysis Directorate Laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, NE and beyond.


  • ANTH 444/844 – Human Osteology
  • ANTH 455/855 – Forensic Archaeology: Clandestine Burials, Mass Graves, and Human Rights
  • ANTH 456/856 – Forensic Taphonomy: An Anthropological Perspective
  • ANTH 462/862 – Forensic Anthropology
  • ANTH 487D/887D – Analysis of Archaeological Materials - Archaeofauna
  • ANTH 490/890 – Forensic Archaeology Field Techniques or Underwater Forensic Investigation

Recent Publications

2021 (in press) Belcher, William R., Calvin Y. Shiroma, Lesley A. Chesson, Gregory E. Berg, and Miranda Jans. The use of forensic anthropology in the identification of U.S. war dead in the 21st century.  WIREs Forensic Sciences online.

2021 (in press) Belcher, William R., Suzanne Falgout, Joyce Chinen, Johanna Fuller, Robert Kalani Carreira.  Experiences in Archaeology, Social Justice, and Democratic Principles: the 2016-2019 Archaeological Field School at the University of Hawai‘i West O‘ahu.  Advances in Archaeological Practice.

2021 Byrnes, Jennifer F. and William R. Belcher.  Multi-agent Scavenging Patterns in Hawai‘i: A Forensic Archaeological and Skeletal Case Study.  Science and Justice 6`:723-734. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scijus.2021.09.002.

2021 Abraham, Shelby, Gargi Jani, Vineet Vinay, William R. Belcher, and Abraham Johnson.  A preliminary study to quantify the efficacy of 3D data acquisition for human bone replication.  Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine 83(1):102244.  DOI: 10.1016/j.jflm.2021.102244.

2021 The Passive Side of Conflict Archaeology: the 2016 to 2019 Excavations of a POW Mess Hall in the Honouliuli Internment and POW Camp, Island of O‘ahu, Hawai‘i. Hawaiian Archaeology 15:11-19.  Contribution 100% writing, research, writing.

2020 Rohith, Muraleedharan M., William R. Belcher, Jyotirmoy Roy, Shelby O. Abraham, Pooja Chakraborty, Nidhi J. Nandaniya, and Abraham Johnson. Tattoo in Forensic Science: An Indian Perspective.  Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine.  DOI: 10.1016/j.jflm.2020.102022.

2020 Gargi, Jani, Abraham Johnson, and William R. Belcher.  Case report: Digital restoration of fragmented non-human skull.  Forensic Science International: Reports 2. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.fsir.2020.100070.

2019 Passalacqua, Nicholas, Marin Pilloud, and William R. Belcher.  Scientific integrity in the forensic sciences: consumerism, conflicts of interest, and transparency.  Science and Justice https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scijus.2019.06.010.

2017 Rona M. Ikehara-Quebral, Miriam T. Stark, William R. Belcher, Voeun Vuthy, John Krigbaum, R. Alexander Bentley, Michele Toomay Douglas, and Michael Pietrusewsky.  Biocultural Practices during the Transition to History at the Vat Komnou Cemetery, Angkor Borei, Cambodia. Asian Perspectives 191-236.

2017 Comment on Cameron Petrie, et al. 2017 Adaptation to Variable Environments, Resilience to Climate Change Investigating Land, Water and Settlement in Indus Northwest India.  Current Anthropology 58:1:19-20. 

2017 Belcher, William R. and David Sanger.  The Roque Island Archaeological Research Project, Maine, USA: Methodologies and Results.  Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 10 (North American East Coast Shell Midden Research):126-142.

Educational Background

  • Western Washington University, B.A., M.A., Anthropology 1984, 1985
  • University of Maine-Orono, M.S., Quaternary Studies, 1988
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ph.D., Anthropology, 1998
  • American Board of Forensic Anthropology Diplomate Certification (No. 66), 2003

Research Interests

Forensic Anthropology, Forensic Archaeology, Hard Tissue Taphonomy, Zooarchaeology, Ethnoarchaeology, South Asia/Arabia Archaeology