Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Dead and Buried

As many of your know I have an obsession with dead bodies. Not in a weird creepy way, but in a fascinated with what happens to the body after we die kind of way. When I was first trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I had decided I wanted to be a Medical Examiner and conduct autopsies on people that had passed. The concept of figuring out how a person passed away, by opening them up, was something that made me light up inside. The problem with my dream - medical school and a medical rotation. I loved dead bodies, but I didn't want to work on alive bodies.

My next line of action became forensic anthropology since I was also fascinated by bones, how bodies decomposed, and how finding the remains of the dead. When I started out in my Undergrad degree I was actually a Forensic Science Major at Penn State. It became my goal at that time to work at the Body Farm. For those of you who don't know the Body Farm is a research facility at the University of Tennessee that studies the affects of decomposition in different environments. They have acres of fenced off land where they put dead bodies in difference elements such as buried under the ground, hanging from trees, submerged underwater, etc. They then document the stages of decomposition, the types of insects that populate the bodies, and how the elements affect the chemistry and look of the bodies. Some might think it to be disgusting and morbid but I find it fascinating. The problem with this dream - excessive courses in Chemistry and Physics.

My next line of action then was to go back even old and study bones of the ancients so I switched to basic Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology. What fueled this was my obsession with two different areas of the world and how bodies were preserved there. The first was the bogs in Scotland. I've shared with you all before the story of the "Bog Man" of Scotland who was an ancient man that was almost perfectly preserved in peat moss. He was so well preserved in fact that he was thought to be the missing man from a town over and his supposed killer was arrested. Once DNA results were run it was obvious that this was in fact not the same man; that's when further research was done in the bog. Many bodies were found dating back all the way to the 17th century. The composition of the peat moss acted as a barrier from the elements to almost completely preserve the bodies.

The other example of preservation from the ancient times that I love is Pompeii. Now my obsession with this actually stemmed from my love of geology and volcanoes which tends to go hand and hand with archeology so I was still in the same realm. When Mount Vesuvius erupted, ash fell in buckets all around the Pompeii area. When people died from smoke inhalation, burns, etc their bodies fell were covered with ash that acted just as the peat moss from the bogs and shielded the bodies (seen in the picture above). When archeologists found the bodies, they were mummified into the positions that they died in. Once again some find that morbid, I find it fascinating.

My next line of action in my quest to find that anthropological topic I loved was to work in a museum. At Penn State I helped design exhibits on evolution and that when I became obsessed with a even older kind of preservation: fossils. I learned all I could about the discoveries of hominid fossils and had way too much fun at times "playing" with the casts of homo floresiensis (of which more information has come out as of late that I'm planning to write about hopefully next week when I gather more info), homo habilis, homo ergaster, and more.

After I graduated I spent 5 months unemployed so I volunteered at a museum where one of my fellow collections committee workers was also obsessed with the dead. His obsession was with graves. So through him I got to learn about how the people of Laurel, Maryland (which was the historical society I worked for) buried their dead. I even got to go on a quest to find the missing grave site of a horse that had run on Laurel's Racetrack.

So for me, death isn't something that gross and disturbing. I'm of the belief that when I person is dead, their soul moves on leaving only their shell. We still remain respectful of that shell but it is also fascinating to figure out what happens to that shell after. The body does amazing things when it is alive and does equally amazing things when it's dead. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Do You Do?

That is a very loaded question indeed and it's one that I have been asked a lot lately. Looking deep into myself I have come up with the singular answer of: I am a writer. This is in fact a true statement and somewhat all encompassing but it leaves out many key parts to what I "do."

When answering a question like this you have to first evaluate what this question actually means. Does "do" reference a job where you get paid, or perhaps a job that you don't get paid, or even a hobby that you enjoy but don't consider it a job. If looking at that, well I "do" a lot. But as far as paid job(s) are concerned I would still classify myself as a writer. What I enjoy doing and what keeps me sane is a completely different story. So to answer the questions this is what Samantha Curtin does:

I am a Technical Writer who writes contract proposals; I am a fiction writer who writes horror novels and short stories; I am a blogger who utilizes an Anthropology degree to focus on anthropological topics; I am a techy who is going to Grad School for Geospatial Information Science (GIS) to achieve the goal of either becoming both a Geospatial Analyst or a GIS Subject Matter Expert Technical Writer; I am a jock: who works out almost everyday and is what keeps the insanity under control. 

So now I pose the question to you: "What do you do?"