Written in Bone

Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland

  • Interest Level: Grade 5 - Grade 8
  • Reading Level: Grade 5

Bright white teeth. Straight leg bones. Awkwardly contorted arm bones. On a hot summer day in 2005, Dr. Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution peered into an excavated grave, carefully examining the fragile skeleton that had been buried there for four hundred years. “He was about fifteen years old when he died. And he was European,” Owsley concluded. But how did he know?

Just as forensic scientists use their knowledge of human remains to help solve crimes, they use similar skills to solve the mysteries of the long-ago past. Join author Sally M. Walker as she works alongside the scientists investigating colonial-era graves near Jamestown, Virginia, as well as other sites in Maryland. As you follow their investigations, she’ll introduce you to what scientists believe are the lives of a teenage boy, a ship’s captain, an indentured servant, a colonial official and his family, and an enslaved African girl. All are reaching beyond the grave to tell us their stories, which are written in bone.

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Interest Level Grade 5 - Grade 8
Reading Level Grade 5
Genre Social Studies
Category 5 Kinds of Nonfiction, 5KN: Narrative Nonfiction
Copyright 2009
Publisher Lerner Publishing Group
Imprint Carolrhoda Books ®
Language English
Number of Pages 144
Publication Date 2009-01-01
Reading Counts! Level 11.4
Reading Counts! Points 9.0
Text Type Narrative Nonfiction
BISACS JNF025190, JNF038100, JNF051000
Dewey 614'.17
Dimensions 8.375 x 10.5
Lexile 1140
Guided Reading Level X
ATOS Reading Level 9.0
Accelerated Reader® Quiz 127307
Accelerated Reader® Points 6.0
Features Author/Illustrator note, Awards, Bibliography/further reading, Glossary, Index, Maps, Primary source quotations/images, Reviewed, Source notes, Starred Reviews, and Table of contents

Author: Sally M. Walker

Sally M. Walker has been a children's book writer for over 20 years. Most of her books are nonfiction and present various science topics to young readers. Fossil Fish Found Alive is the story of the hunt for the elusive fish called the coelacanth. Sally also enjoys combining science investigation with historical topics. Her book Secrets of a Civil War Submarine, which won the 2006 Robert F. Sibert Medal, tells about the history, loss, and re-discovery of the first submarine to sink an enemy ship in battle. Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland takes readers on archaeological expeditions, where the forensic analysis of colonial settlers' bones helps us to understand their lives. Sally especially enjoys writing narrative nonfiction that captures the reader's attention with a true story. She is also the author of 2019 Orbis Pictus Honor Book Champion: The Comeback Tale of the American Chestnut.


  • National Endowment for the Humanities Nonfiction Booklist for Young Readers, Winner, 2016
  • ForeWord Magazine INDIES Book of the Year Bronze Award, Commended, 2010
  • Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) Choices, Winner, 2009
  • Cybils Finalist, Nominated, 2009
  • ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award Finalist, Short-listed, 2009
  • Science Books & Films Best Books, Winner, 2009
  • SSLI Book Award Honor Book, Commended, 2009
  • NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, Winner, 2009
  • NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12, Winner, 2009
  • Orbis Pictus Award Recommended Book, Commended, 2009
  • School Library Journal Best Book, Winner, 2009
  • Tayshas Reading List, Winner, 2009
  • Texas Library Association Lone Star Reading List, Winner, 2009
  • YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Finalist, Commended, 2009
  • YALSA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults, Winner, 2009
  • Capitol Choices: Noteworthy Books for Children, Winner, 2009
  • Garden State Teen Book Award Nominee, Nominated, 2009
  • ALA Notable Children's Books, Winner, 2009
  • Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books, Winner, 2009



“. . .those intrigued by forensics and history will find [Written in Bone] absolutely fascinating.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Readers will be enticed by both the scientific detective work and by the tantalizing mysteries that remain.”
Kirkus Reviews

School Library Journal

“Written in Bone casts a magnifying glass on the hardships and realities of colonial life so often romanticized in American lore.”
School Library Journal