There Have Got to be More Human Bones Laying Around in Brockton Than This..

First off, I didn’t threaten any middle school kids. In fact, I tried avoiding acting/feeling like the Grim Reaper or Eminem…”hi kids, do you like violence..”

I showed up at East Middle School in Brockton to conduct the CSI program lecture and presentation on January 17th and it was a success! I kind of really want to do more of these. I would try at the high school level too. I talked to a couple of people, a teacher and a high school administration staff person about doing the presentation at their schools. This whole process definitely helped me remember facts when I prepared, refreshed my memory on how to go about analyzing things, and gave me some good practice explaining things in lay terms. My uncle Mike said I was a good teacher, which was a really great compliment because I like it and think it would be pretty cool to teach. It’s just not in the cards for me until I get my phD. Although, I do consistently apply to community colleges around Mass, since you can teach there without a phD or teaching degree (just a Masters).

I got to the school and met Mike at the front desk. He introduced me to the front desk ladies and I showed him and some of them my bag of bones. We went upstairs to one of the science classrooms. It was the end of the day, like right before last period. We pushed together a couple of tables and laid the bones and some books out, some xray books and some pictures. There was also a projector screen where I projected some of the Holliston pictures of where we were digging (I put my USB in a computer and it linked to the projector). Nothing gross and nothing too confidential. More just like the people and the set up.

Mike and I talked about what I was going to do and say and he asked me some questions about FA. The bell rang and the kids flooded in and it seemed like there were at least 30 kids in there. Some sat in the chairs at the tables and some in chairs at the back of the room. There were like 6 teachers in there too! Mike took the floor. He started off by telling his audience that when he goes to a crime scene, he knows what to do as a police officer and I guess time and time again the students ask about the CSI stuff and he has to tell them that he asks a scientist about those things. He said “well, here’s your scientist”. Haha, that was my introduction.

I had this Powerpoint presentation that I put together before hand but I was reluctant to use it because I like the hands on, face to face, talking with people approach much better. I think learning by seeing, hearing, and doing is the best approach to teaching. Plus you cover all angles so if someone only learns by hearing then you’re covered. So..let’s get on with it.

First, I asked them if they knew what forensic anthropology was. A couple of kids knew but I could tell those words were just not interesting to most of them. So I explained that it’s like archaeology at a crime scene and our number on goal is to figure out who the missing person is. “We do that by determining the ‘BIOLOGICAL PROFILE'”. I  held up a piece of paper with these words on it so they could see how it’s spelled and whatnot. I figured they might want to know some interesting sounding term. If not, then just ignore it, brat.

But figuring out the biological profile was not the first step in finding the missing person. The first step at the scene, to make sure we are actually looking for a PERSON, is to determine if the bone is human or nonhuman. I had 3 exercises for this: 1. I held up a cow femur and asked them if they thought it was human or nonhuman. A teacher chimed in and said raise your hand if you think it’s human and put your hand on the top of your head if you think it’s non human. Lots of hands on heads, good. Then I asked them why it’s not human. Then I asked which bone they thought it was. Well you can tell the difference because of the size, angle, and special features. I passed it around.. they really loved being able to hold the bone and some made yucky faces, others had shocked kind of faces, it was fun. 2. I held up a cow vertebra, same deal. 3. I held up two rodent mandible halves. Same deal, is this human? Why? What is it? Then I added a little taphonomy twist! I said one is brown and one is white but that doesn’t always mean it’s from two different rodents because one could have been sitting in the sunlight and got “bleached” white by the sun and the other could have been stuck under the dirt and stained brown. Then I passed those two pieces around and asked them if they notice anything on them. This was Mike’s favorite part. The mandibles had gnawing on them. He brought it up at the end about how that’s important. He asked me and I said that you can tell what kind of animal made the teeth marks on the bone, then you’d be able to figure out where that animal typically resides, then narrow it down to a forest with a certain kind of habitat, then narrow it down to the woods in Weymouth that my cousin Clay picked them up for me from. Why do we want to know all this? Well, if there’s one bone, most people want to find the rest of the bones to reconstruct the skeleton (ultimately to make a positive ID). Then when the family or friends or whoever go to bury the body, there’s more than a half of a jaw bone to bury. Having all the parts of your body being buried together is VERY important to A LOT of people. Plus, people are crazy about finding out “why” and “how” someone died. Just call it justice and avoid the headache.

I had some hand and foot bones too and made a point to say that the little bones in your hands and feet can easily look like rocks (especially covered in dirt), so FAs have to pay very close attention to detail. Then showed them an xray of a hand and foot and told them that they could palpate where the heel is and knuckles are on their own bodies. But how cool is it to touch your heel, see a heel bone in front of you, and see and xray of a foot all at the same time?

Secondly, the biological profile. See next post. This one is getting too long…

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