Donald J. Ortner was a biological anthropologist in the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). By the time of his death, Ortner had served in many positions at the Museum, including Acting Director (1994-1996). His areas of expertise included human paleopathology, human health in medieval England, bioarcheology of the ancient Near East, and the history and evoluton of human infectious diseases. Ortner was a founding member of the Paleopathology Association.
Ortner was born in 1938 in Stoneham, Massachusetts and arrived at the NMNH in 1963, working primarily with J. Lawrence Angel who had recently started as Curator in the Division of Physical Anthropology. While working at the Museum, Ortner completed his Master's in Anthropology in 1967 and received his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas in 1970. His doctoral dissertation was on The Effects of Aging and Disease on the Micromorphology of Human Compact Bone.
Ortner worked with Walter G. J. Putschar, a pathologist based at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, on a series of short-courses (1971-1974) on paleopathology at the Smithsonian. During the summer of 1974, Putschar and Ortner traveled to Europe (London, Edinburgh, Zurich, Strasbourg, Vienna, Prague) studying and photographing examples of skeletal pathology in museums and other repositories. The result of this research was the book Identification of Pathological Conditions in Human Skeletal Remains published in 1981, with later editions in 1985 and 2003.
In 1977, Ortner joined the Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain directed by archaeologists Walter E. Rast and R. Thomas Schaub, focusing on the site of Bab edh-Dhra. Ortner studied the tombs and skeletons for data indicating cultural and biological changes, especially urbanization and connection to the development of other "Western civilizations." Ortner participated in two more field seasons in Bab edh-Dhra in 1979 and 1981. From his research at Bab-edh-Dhra, Ortner published many scholarly articles and recreated two tombs for the Hall of Western Civilization at NMNH.
In 1988, Ortner began his collaboration with the University of Bradford in Bradford, England, teaching short-courses on paleopathology. While a Visiting Professor at the University, he also participated in a project on human health and disease in Medieval England. The project focused on leprosy and syphilis in skeletons from St. James Hospital's leprosarium cemetery in Chichester, Wharram Perry, and Magistrates' Court in Kingston-upon-Hull. He received an Honorary Doctorate of Science from the University in 1995.
Donald J. Ortner died on April 29th, 2012 in Maryland.
Ubelaker, D. H. "Obituary: Donald J. Ortner (1938–2012)." American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 149 (2012): 155–156.
Arnoldi, Mary Jo and Ann Kaupp. "Donald J. Ortner, Sr. (1939-2012)." Anthropolog: Newsletter of the Department of Anthropology, Spring 2012: 1-3.
Born on August 23 in Stoneham, Massachusetts.
Received B.A. in Zoology from Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, Maryland.
Began working at the Smithsonian Institution.
Received M.A. in Anthropology from Syracuse University.
Promoted to Assistant Curator.
Received Ph.D. from the University of Kansas.
Promoted to Associate Curator.
Taught part-time at the University of Maryland.
Spent summer with Dr. Walter G. J. Putschar studying pathological specimens in Europe.
Promoted to Curator in the Anthropology Department, National Museum of Natural History.
First field season at Bab edh-Dhra cemetery site in Jordan.
Second field season at Bab edh-Dhra cemetery site in Jordan.
Third field season at Bab edh-Dhra cemetery site in Jordan.
Began association with the University of Bradford in Bradford, England.
Chairman of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History.
Acting Director of the National Museum of Natural History.
Awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science degree from the University of Bradford.
President of the Paleopathology Association.
Received Eve Cockburn Award from the Paleopathology Association in recognition of his contributions in the field of paleopathology.
Died on April 29 in Maryland.