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Credits and Behind the Scenes

Clues from the Bones was created by the TBH team of Editor Susan Dial, Web Developer Heather Smith, and Education Advisors Laine Leibick and Carol Schlenk (see About TBH to learn more). Data was drawn from several sources including an unpublished report on the Belle skeleton, "Human Skeletal Analysis," by D. Gentry Steele and Michelle Raisor of Texas A&M University. Images used in this exhibit were contributed primarily by the Texas A&M Conservation Research Laboratory and the Texas Historical Commission. The anatomy chart used in the laboratory analysis activity is from Wikipedia. A number of the images were altered to include Dr. Dirt, the Armadillo Archeologist.

Below, we meet the actual scientists (Ph.D. doctors) who performed the many different types of analyses on the Belle skeleton. This team gave meaning to the 300-year-old bones, helping us understand what life must have been like for this young Frenchman traveling to the New World.

In the Lab

Dr. Helen Dewolf, head conservator of the Texas A&M Conservation Research Laboratory, and Dr. Gentry Steele, the physical anthropologist who performed the skeletal analysis, examine the skull of the Belle skeleton.

Head honchos

Dr. Donny Hamilton, left, confers with Dr. Jim Bruseth over one of the trader's chests excavated from La Belle. Dr. Hamilton directed the conservation efforts at the Texas A&M laboratory. Their work included analysis of the skeleton, the ship's hull, and more than one million artifacts. Dr. Bruseth, director of the Archeology Division of the Texas Historical Commission, oversaw excavations of the shipwreck in Matagorda Bay, including the recovery of the skeleton.

Scanning the skull

Dr. Wayne Smith of Texas A&M University, Lois Liehman, computer tomography technician from the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, and Marc McAllister of CyberForm International prepare the sailor's skull for a CT scan with a new Phillips Computer Tomograph AV.


Dr. Dennis Lee, a medical and biological illustrator in the School of Medicine at the University of Michigan, reconstructed the face of the Belle sailor. Using 3D digital images from computer tomography scans of the skull, he modeled a cast and applied layers of clay to simulate skin and facial features.

Meet Monsieur Barange

The reconstructed head of the Belle sailor has been painted, and a wig added to provide a more realistic look. Likely, the real sailor would have had a beard and longer hair. He probably would have looked much more wrinkled and battered after having suffered a hard trip at sea and an even worse time stuck on board the ship in Matagorda Bay!

Sources to Learn More about the Belle Skeleton and Shipwreck

La Belle Shipwreck: a multi-section exhibit on Texas Beyond History, including a correlated lesson for teachers:

Texas A&M Conservation Research Laboratory: Conserving the Human Skeleton Found on the Belle

Texas Historical Commission: Belle Sailor Honored at Special Funeral

Bruseth, James E. and Toni S. Turner
2005 From a Watery Grave: The Discovery and Excavation of La Salle's Shipwreck, La Belle. Texas A&M University Press.

Henri Joutel, Johanna S. Warren (Translator), William C. Foster (Editor)
1998 The La Salle Expedition to Texas: The Journal of Henri Joutel, 1684-1687. Texas State Historical Association.

Mitchell, Mark G.
2002 Raising La Belle, Eakin Press.