Forensic anthropology students get real with fake remains

2009-05-02T00:00:00Z Forensic anthropology students get real with fake remainsJeff Burton
jeff.burton@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2225
nwitimes.com

GARY | On television, when a crime scene investigation team rolls onto a scene, they usually can tell a victim's sex, race and age range and provide an almost instant hypothesis into how the person died, just by looking at the fresh body.

In reality, there are many times when all that's left of a victim are bones.

Students in Kathleen Forgey's forensic anthropology class at Indiana University Northwest are studying just that, and last week they got the chance to put a semester's worth of studying to the test, unearthing faux remains from a fake shallow grave outside Tamarack Hall.

MORE: Watch an audio slideshow of the IUN Anthropology class digging for clues.

While the 13 students come from a variety of academic backgrounds, some such as Jessica Flores, of Hammond, who want to go into the field, need the hands-on experience.

"If they're serious about it, they'll need to see it," Forgey said.

Flores, who will be accompanying Forgey to Peru this summer to radiograph mummified skeletal remains, said after taking a course on the origins of human beings, she knew she wanted to be a bioarchaeologist.

"It overwhelmed me, but in a good way," she said. "It's what I want to do, and this a good opportunity to see what I'm in for when I start my career."

As Dave Julovich, of Merrillville, a biologist currently studying for a second career as a registered nurse, unearthed the remains, fellow students used small trowels and brushes in order to get a complete view of the skeleton. By looking at some distinct features, Diane Dahlgren, of Valparaiso, was able to learn a little bit about the victim.

"In class, they have learned how to differentiate between human and nonhuman remains," Forgey said. "There are also several features on the cranium that can tell ancestry. The features will be very different."

Dahlgren and others also were able to tell that the victim was a male using information gathered from looking at the pelvic bone, and spotting what appeared to be a nail in the skull, they began suspecting foul play.

Forgey said using those types of clues, as well as analyzing the position in which the body was found, can oftentimes lead to a pretty accurate account of what happened.

Once the remains, planted last fall so that roots could penetrate the clothing, were completely uncovered, students photographed them, tagged evidence, drew the scene and exhumed them. While students performed all their work in about an hour, much like on television, Forgey said an actual exhumation can take days and requires a great deal of specialized knowledge to perform.

"You don't call in a forensic anthropologist until no one else can identify the individual," Forgey said.

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