“A forensic anthropologist is often called upon to distinguish traumatic injury as antemortem or postmortem during an investigation of human remains. After identifying the traumatic injury as antemortem, it is important to determine the time between injury and death.  This estimation of time between injury and death can be used as a tool to reconstruct a temporal framework of circumstances prior to death. The current study focuses on the rate of macroscopic changes to bone during the healing process, which includes the visual assessment of the following four bone responses originally observed by Barbian and Sledzik (2008): a line of demarcation, osteoclastic activity, osteoblastic activity, and sequestration. Specifically, the aim of this study was to determine if the stages of each bone response were associated with a particular time frame. The proposed method requires the assessment of each bone response using a system of stages ranging from 0 to 4. Stages of bone responses were observed between 1 and 13+ weeks after injury in specimens selected from the National Museum of Health and Medicine’s Civil War Collection. Results of this study demonstrate that osteoblastic activity exhibited a relatively consistent trend in activity over all weeks; however, the analysis of a line of demarcation, osteoclastic activity, and sequestration reveal limitations associated with the frequency of each response. Most importantly, the high rate of infection not only affects the rate of healing in bone but may also cause the bone responses to infection to mimic the targeted bone responses of this study.”

Blibbity blah. The NEAA theme seemed to be more of a cultural anthropology focus, but after checking with Dr. Ingmanson, she said no all subfields should be included. So, anthropology has four subfields: biological (sometimes referred  to as physical, but I think that term is outdated), cultural, linguistics, and archaeology. I fit into the biological anthropology section. Forensic anthropology is a subdiscipline of the subdiscipline of biological anthropology. Good? There was a Biological Anthropology presentation section but then one presenter backed down the week of and another said she wanted to do a poster instead of a presentation so then there was just me left in that allotted time slot so I got added to the General Anthropology section. There were some interesting presentations, not as professional as AAFS, and of course not because these are college students and newbies for the most part. Our mediator was a really nice woman who studied the dynamics of society and space (not outer space, like spatial existence between people and items and whatnot). She read off of a piece of paper while standing at a podium. These rooms are classrooms but, no big conference rooms like AAFS. Still, not to be taken lightly as I come to find out. There are like 30 people in there. So she was boring, smart, but boring. Then some college guy gets up there to talk about the outdoor facility at his school where they do archaeological studies and the issues that they ran into along the way. Then another guy college student presented his results from a tree ring dating method; it was actually like there can be interruptions in the tree rings due to environmental changes, how does that affect dendochronology (tree ring dating), and how can we reduce errors that may result from misinterpreting the rings. Then a phD guy gets up there and goes on about a site he visited in Egypt and the grains he found. He and his team reconstructed a layout of a traditional home and figured out the purpose of each room based on the artifacts. Artifacts included walls, tables, tools, pottery, wheat, grains, and more. He conveyed information about what types of food these grains were used to make and the process for making them. Say one room had a sifter (way back when), there would be remnants of the sifted grains left on the ground. Say there was fire used to bake bread, there would be hearth remnants and chemical artifacts like carbon left over. The girl who presented before me talked about what people like or want from a museum. She concluded that in general people don’t want to just peruse around a museum and read little captions on a stand still plain artifact. A great example of hers was human ash casts of victims at Pompeii. These casts were molded around the victims leaving them standing still in time, of course very dramatic because they were about to be covered in ash and die. She brought up that it is much more exciting to have a background picture or set up a scene that mimics what it would have looked like in real-time. This is what people would like to see. Even add music. She also stated that, and I think she had surveys or some statistic, people in general want to see things like Egyptian tombs and Pompeii. The misconception is that people don’t want to see the same thing over and over again, but it’s really that the displays are bland. Kudos to her for taking such an immeasurable topic, putting it into perspective, AND THEN clearly presenting her idea to a group of people who are listening intently to every word she is saying.

So I was fine until I got up there. I got up to the front and I looked at the “audience” and my brain stopped working and my mouth wouldn’t move. I felt like no one wanted to hear this geeky scientists experiment and who cares. So I started off with, “I’m going to take this session in a different direction, a direction that is more scientific and medical”. I thought the disclaimer would have helped but instead I was imagining myself running for the door and never coming back. I didn’t though. I was like they don’t know what I’m saying at the beginning of this anyway so just fill the silence until you calm down a little or until you can read them and adapt. After 5 minutes, or possibly 10 hours, I don’t really know which one was reality, I got on with it. I made if very clear the purpose of the study. Then I had to say medical words and I was like “arghhh! I sound stupid! No one cares about these words!” That was my downfall because I became hesitant. I know this crap like the back of my hand but I was just really hesitant to say big words and I felt very out of place.

Want a sneak peek?

  • Research Objective: This study is geared towards the process of healing in long bones and how it applies in a forensic context. The specific aim of this study is to determine if each proposed stage of healing can be associated with a typical time frame. These time frames could be used to help a forensic anthropologist determine the time between injury and death.
  • History: Disciplines such as pathology and orthopaedics have thoroughly explored the healing process in the human body. They associated typical time frames to when these steps in the healing process occur. However, there is a need for similar studies on strictly bone healing.
  • Then I showed a chart that has 13 phases of healing, a description of responses in bone at microscopic, macroscopic, and radiological levels, and the typical time frame that these responses are observed. I just won’t display it here because I could get in trouble. This chart was based on a list that a medical professional compiled, I just picked out the good stuff, the osseous stuff. The next slide captures some important FA findings.
  • Bone Responses to Injury: Galloway et al. (1999), 13 days post injury: resorption can be observed near the fracture site where the periosteal membrane was torn from the bone, 15 days post injury: clearly visible callus, Lovell (1997) 6-9 years for the adult bone to remodel back to its original form. I proposed a method to assess bone responses to injury and record when they occur each week up to 13 weeks.

How am I going to look at bone responses to injury at a particular time? Well, the Civil War Collection at the National Museum of Health and Medicine is a perfect fit. This collection was the first of its kind in the US. Medical people during the war just picked up a bunch of pieces of bone, projectiles, etc off of the battle fields and stored them with bones and stuff from the hospitals and recorded whatever information they had. And I’m glad they did. Nowadays the collection is significantly more organized. I randomly selected a bone from the collection and the bone has a tag with a number written on it or just a number written on it. Then I looked the number up in this really old book called the Medical and Surgical History of the War of Rebellion (MSHWR). Then I calculated the time in which the individual survived after they were injured. I needed the date that the individual was injured and the date they died and voila.

Or not so voila, because amputation was the prime mode of surgery at that time so that means I have to consider that some of the specimens that I am examining could have been (1) injured then they guy passed away (these were all males), (2) the guy was injured and then had surgery and I have his bone that was removed from the body, because it was either severely damaged or infected, or (3) the person had surgery then they died then their bone was collected. So how did I calculate all that? Look at this pretty chart I madeeeee.

So, my goal was to analyze 150 specimens. What I was originally looking for were 4 bone responses to injury that Barbian and Sledzik analyzed in a study that they did: a line of demarcation, osteoclastic activity, osteoblastic activity, and sequestration. I wrote down either a 1 or a 0 next to each response in my handy dandy red notebook; 1 meaning the response was present and 0 meaning it was absent. I didn’t think that just writing 1 or 0 would suffice so I took photos and wrote down details and observations about each specimen that I thought was interesting or had potential value (good thing I diddd). I did this everyday for a week, roughly 8 hours a day. Then I got on the train to go back to my hotel and reviewed what I did each day. I liked that part, made me make sense of it all, and critically think about the experiment. The variables were changing from my proposal so how was I going to handle it?

So, when all was said and done I analyzed my data and eliminated specimens that would not be useful/meet my requirements.

  1. Is this a postcranial long bone?
  2. Did this bone specimen undergo traumatic injury? I considered amputation traumatic injury because I was hoping I could still get some indicators of healing out of it.
  3. Do I have 2 of the following dates (that make sense together): time of injury, time of surgery, and/or time of death?

I ended up with 109 bone specimens then I was ready to roll. I bet your wondering the purpose of figuring out the time between injury and death in the first place. TBC.


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