Atlanta was not so Hotlanta when Tom and I went there for the week of February 19th. We drove 15 hours down late night, Saturday, February 18th and drove 16 hours back starting late morning Saturday, February 25th. I didn’t think the drive was so bad. We didn’t go down 95 so we were pretty much in the mountains and valleys so it was pretty. Since we traveled along or on the Blue Ridge Mountains, we saw a bunch of Civil War areas (there were marked by signs). So by seeing these I mean we drove by them at 90 miles an hour, turned our heads, said oh cool, mountains..a valley, so pretty, and turned our heads forward again. Whatever, it’s 2012. We also crossed the Mason-Dixon Line..twice! Hah. We hit snow on the way down as we drove through Virginia, I think Tom was napping at this point so I’m not sure he got the full effect. It was coming down pretty good for about an hour, or I just so happened to be driving on a mountain where there was cold weather and the precipitation turned from rain to snow. When we got off the mountain, all the way from the foothills to the Georgia border, there was rain or mist. Needless to say, that was more snowy activity than Boston had this whole winter. I still didn’t get my fix though. Boo..
The reason we ventured down to Atlanta was for the annual conference of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS). A large number of what-I-consider-famous-people attended, they usually do. Famous forensic anthropologists and other forensic scientists gave presentations, and socialized with students from all over. There are international students and international speakers as well. In fact, I talked with the South African police department for like a good 30 minutes trying to explain what the F forensic anthropology is. It went a little somethin’ like this: there was an African man and three African women dressed in pants and shirts like the surrounding Americans. I was at an information booth for the IAI (International Association for Identification) and had to hurry back to my conference room for the resumption of the Humanitarian and Human Rights Violations workshop. They grabbed my attention when I stepped away from the booth. This was a really interesting conversation actually. They asked the most basic of questions at least ones I could handle answering, which is expected since the culture and policing systems vary so much. The man asked me about what an FA does. How do you search for a body? Do you use equipment? Who are you hired by? Where do the bodies go? We search systematically and people in different positions have their own “lanes”, everyone works together, police, scientists, etc. Yes, we use equipment, it could be a shovel, it could be a backhoe, it could be a ground penetrating radar machine (GPR), other geophysical subsurface survey equipment (magnometers, electromagnetic resistivity and conductivity, etc), it could be a metal detector, and so on. Some of the equipment is very expensive. FAs are hired by the medical examiner’s office, or the FBI, or as a consultant that is best fit for the case. The bodies go to the medical examiner’s office or coroner’s office. He wanted to then know who was in charge of that? I said that the state could be in charge of it or the government, it depends. I think he said that the police do all this work in South Africa, which means there is a lack of scientific certainty and peer-reviewed scientific research applied to their forensic findings (not knocking anything, just saying the US is kind of stern about being scientifically certain, hence the Daubert rules which are demanded by our court systems). It seemed that circumstantial evidence was the leading factor in revealing the murderer in a homicide for their culture. Then he asked for an example of how you would go about recovering a body that was buried. So I used the example of searching in the woods (which might have been a bad example considering the terrain differences but I was under the gun and who knows if he was listening) and I said you survey the land, find disturbed soil, unusual vegetation or other disruptions in the soil like discoloration to find where the body was buried, once you found that map out and take photos (he was like gung-ho about photos too, he brought it up, which is so good, wicked important), then you carefully dig, once you find the body or bones then take measurements and continue mapping and photographing. Then I think he got bored because he and another woman said, “What if the body was buried under cement?” The women went on to say that they had a case where a husband buried his wife under their home, which was cement based. They were thinking use some sort of subsurface device to detect that the body was there, I think. So I explained a couple of subsurface (geophysical survey) detection techniques like probes and then the technological ones like GPR. I explained how GPR worked and they got it. Basically there is a tripod above ground that has a laser that points at a targeted area in the distance, the crotch of the tripod sends a pulse down into the ground towards the targeted area. The pulse can detect any subsurface structures, including rocks, graves, bones..the pulse reflects off of the structure which can be captured as an image on a radar gram. The radar gram can be printed out and used as like a map to find where the subsurface disturbance is from above ground. This technique is of growing interest but not necessarily reliable at this point. I also suggested maybe looking at discoloration of the soil. There may be what looks like dripping or “bleeding” (not real blood, well maybe) throughout the soil perhaps if there was even a slight decrease in elevation causing a slope. And as gravity has it, the liquid (putrefaction) will trickle down, but there are so many factors, I was just giving them ideas.
Well this helped them they said. Of course I explained the biological profile to them at the beginning of the conversation. Then that we use databases for missing persons. They took my email and name, they actually asked for a business card I was like ee nope sorry. I didn’t get an email from them but I wouldn’t mind if I did.