Monday, April 8, 2013

Bones, Buried Bodies, and Brutal Honesty

Taken by Dr. Snow during another Forensic Anth Class
So I couldn't resist the alliteration for this next post in the Witches in Fiction 2013... to the Bone entry. My love of alliterations is only out-weighed by my love of bones. If you remember back to my first post for this bone party, I talked about my Forensic Archaeology Class. Our final for that class was of course digging up the buried body and figuring out how/why it was there. There was much more to that class than just digging up bones (though we did do a lot of it).

The way the class was set up, we had a 3 hour session every Wednesday for an entire semester. We'd have one week of lecture, one week of outside fieldwork, and so on and so forth. To say this class was awesome is an understatement. First off it was taught by Dr. Dean Snow who is known for being an expert in Iroquois Indians, President of the Society for American Archaeology, and all around powerhouse of archaeology knowledge. I had him not only for the forensic class but for a couple of my Native American Archaeology classes as well. Dr. Snow actually retired this year so I am happy that I was able to benefit from his wisdom when I could.

Needless to day the forensic class was chalked full of awesome knowledge that he had from the field as well as pulling some experiences from his daughter's work. His daughter happen to be Kate Snow from Dateline. It was really interesting to hear all about her take on forensics from the reporter side of things as well as the forensic sides of things. We started off talking about missing persons. We learned what the most likely place is to find a body of a missing persons, what state they would be in after days/weeks missing, and how to go about finding just what lead them there.

Those were the lecture days. On the outside fieldwork days we spent doing various exercises in figuring out those forensic questions. We used GPS to track our movement around campus to simulate a scenario where a student had gone missing and ended up dead (based on a real case that happened at Penn State in 2009). Another class session Dr. Snow placed the remains of pigs in a field for a couple weeks and we had to go find the remains and figure out what environmental factors affected them.  Then there was a couple sessions where we mapped out a crime scene and had to create grids to show where different artifacts were found related to a crime. To wrap it all up we spent a good chunk of the class digging up the bones from the burial and closely examining them.

This was by far one of my favorite classes that I took at Penn State. There are times when I really questions whether or not I should've gone into archaeology/forensics for a career. Then I remember how many months I spent after graduation TRYING to break into the field and finding that there were no open jobs in it. So instead went into Geospatial Science for my Masters and I get to deal with the more techy side of mapping and database designing. Still love it to death and I am seeing how it can be applied to the archaeology and forensics work that we did in that class.


Sunshineshelle said...

Sam your enthusiasm & love of archaeology & forensics will continue to call you I feel until you slip back in even if it is through another opening. You sound so fulfilled by those subjects I think it would just be a perfect marriage of skills & interest. My daughter hopes to get on a dig next year with her archeology uni course, outback Australia or Turkey, she was telling me at the end of each lesson the professor tells them another deadly reason to consider changing interests to something that pays better & is less dangerous, the students are rapt with her & seems like the love of the subject she infuses is very strong, she hasn't talked anyone out of changing to another field so far ;) Great Post!

Sam Curtin said...

Thank you so much for your kind, eloquent words! I would love to hear all about your daughter's dig! I had a chance to go to Turkey as part of my Landscape Archaeology class but unfortunately it came down to paying the money that I just didn't have. Most of my digs have been local to MD and PA.

Magaly Guerrero said...

More than once, I've been told that idealism doesn't pay the bills. But you know what? When we are old and full of happy wrinkles telling our kids about our old archaeology and philosophy of religion classes in which there were no open jobs, you'll remember a class with a great professor and I'll remember a few days with a tribe that believed the evil eye could be fought by spitting in the river at sunrise. Fun days...

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