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Dennis Dirkmaat, Ph.D.,
Director, Applied Forensic Sciences Dept. 
Professor of Anthropology
Mercyhurst University

Dennis C. Dirkmaat, Ph.D., D-ABFA., is a board-certified forensic anthropologist (since 1996). He is the 2021 winner of the T. Dale Stewart Award for lifetime achievement in Forensic Anthropology, awarded by the Anthropology Section of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS).


Dirkmaat is the Chair of both the undergraduate program in Applied Forensic Sciences and the Masters of Science in Anthropology (Forensic and Biological Anthropology) graduate program at Mercyhurst University, in Erie, PA. The master’s program is widely recognized as one of the top forensic anthropology graduate programs in the world. He was recently awarded the first ever (2020) Outstanding Mentor Award in the Anthropology Section of the AAFS.


Since 1986, Dr. Dirkmaat has conducted nearly 1000 forensic anthropology cases for over 70 coroners, medical examiners and state and local police in the US states of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, West Virginia, and Nevada. The cases have included recoveries of surface-scattered human remains, buried body features, fatal fire scenes, and mass disaster recoveries, as well as victim identification and skeletal trauma analyses. He has testified in court 28 times as an expert witness.


Dr. Dirkmaat has published articles on the role of archaeology and forensic taphonomy in the field of forensic anthropology, and was instrumental in convincing the Physical Anthropology Section of the AAFS to change the name to the Anthropology Section. In 2008, he was the primary author of an influential state-of-the-field article on forensic anthropology for the Yearbook of Physical Anthropology. He is the editor of A Companion to Forensic Anthropology published in 2012 and contributed to six chapters in the book. He co-wrote the chapter detailing forensic archaeological practices in the United States for the book Forensic Archaeology: A Global Perspective, published in 2015.

Dr. Dirkmaat’s research interests include the role of forensic archaeology and forensic taphonomy in the field of forensic anthropology, and in particular, postmortem interval estimation, as well as issues related to mass disaster/mass fatality recovery and victim identification. Dirkmaat served as the chair of the Search and Recovery Committee of the Scientific Working Group- Disaster Victim Identification (SWG-DVI) group and co-chair of the Anthropology Committee of SWG-DVI (FBI, NIJ). He is currently a committee member of the Disaster Victim Identification Subcommittee, within the Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC), administered through the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).


Dr. Dirkmaat has participated as a primary forensic anthropologist with the US Federal Government’s Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT), in commercial plane crash incidents in Pittsburgh (USAir Flight 427, 1994), Guam (KoreanAir Flight 801, 1997), and Rhode Island (EgyptAir Flight 990, 1999), train accidents in Reno, Nevada (2011), as well as natural disasters including Hurricane Katrina (2005). In 2001, he served as the primary scientific advisor to Somerset County (Pennsylvania) Coroner Wallace Miller during the recovery and identification of victims of United Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA. In February 2009, Dr. Dirkmaat, consulting for the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office (Buffalo, NY), directed the recovery of victims of Colgan Air Flight 3407 outside of Buffalo (50 victims). In November of 2015 he led the recovery efforts of eight victims of a commuter plane crash in Akron, Ohio. He serves as a consultant for international companies involved in the recovery and identification of victims of plane crashes from around the world (including Kenya, Angola, and Peru) and other mass disaster events (directing morgue operations in Santiago, Dominican Republic during the Haiti earthquake in 2010).


Dr. Dirkmaat has completed two major grant projects for the design of national scene processing protocols for the processing and investigation of mass disaster scenes, as well as developing protocols for the investigation of fatal fire victims for the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), US Department of Justice.


Dr. Dirkmaat has spent the last 29 years at Mercyhurst University and is a Full Professor of Anthropology. As an instructor, outside of Mercyhurst, Dirkmaat has close to three decades of experience organizing training courses and lecturing for local, state and federal agencies throughout the US (26 states), as well as Mexico, Chile, Cyprus, Canada, and Spain. He has also presented over 300 lectures and 80 professional papers discussing forensic anthropology investigation at numerous regional, national and international meetings.

Read about Dr. Dirkmaat's life in his biography: 

Dunn RR, Zurek-Ost A, Lynch P, Bohne Warren C. Dennis C. Dirkmaat: A brief visit with an influential forensic anthropologist. Forensic Anthropology 2022;Early View.


2020 - Outstanding Mentorship Award 

Dr. Dirkmaat is the first member of the Anthropology section at American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) to win the outstanding mentor award. AAFS defines the award as one "designed to honor mentors who exemplify extraordinary selflessness as they support and contribute to the career development and advancement of students, colleagues, and the discipline of forensic anthropology. This award recognizes an individual who has excelled at mentoring others in achieving their career objectives through moral, social, and intellectual support." To learn about Dr. Dirkmaat's nomination, click here


To read the speech about Dr. Dirkmaat receiving this honor, click here

2021 - T. Dale Stewart Award

Dr. Dirkmaat is the latest winner of the T. Dale Stewart award. This is considered the top award in the Anthropology section at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences annual meetings. Specifically, it celebrates "a member of the [AAFS anthropology] section for outstanding contributions to the field of forensic physical anthropology."


To read the speech about Dr. Dirkmaat receiving this honor, click here

Check out the video below to learn how Dr. Dirkmaat became interested in forensic anthropology and how he has worked to incorporate forensic archaeology to answer important questions about the outdoor forensic scene.

Dr. Dirkmaat

Recent interview for Johnstown, PA, Tribune

Check out the video below to hear how Dr. Dirkmaat aided coroner Wallace Miller after the Flight 93 crash in Pennsylvania:

Dr. Dirkmaat

Recent interview for Friends of Flight 93

To commemorate 20 years since September 11, 2021, Dr. Dirkmaat has been featured in the Erie Times to share his story (featured below).

Sept 11 News
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