In Summer 2011 I was fortunate enough to attend the 25th Annual National Museum of Health and Medicine Forensic Anthropology Course. One of my lab mates had taken a previous instantiation of the course when it was still under the jurisdiction of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, and strongly recommended it to me. “You’ll get to look at all kinds of bones” she said. “Where do I sign up”? I said. After applying to my generous department for a little bit of funding on the grounds of “Please, for the love of God, please, you must let me do this or I will haunt the department office for the next two weeks sulking, please, please”*, I was headed to Baltimore.
The course was phenomenally interesting. There were lectures on things like search and recovery methods, trauma analysis, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) case studies, and mass fatality protocols – topics that my training in bioarchaeology hadn’t previously exposed me to. The class also covered more standard procedures for identifying human remains, estimating age, ancestry, sex, stature, with hands-on osteology labs during the afternoons. The pathology lab was particularly great, as it exposed me to a wider range of insults – Charcotte’s joint, osteosarcomas, Paget’s disease – than I had seen during my research on prehistoric populations.
In addition to learning a lot, I met some fascinating people. I was paired up with forensic pathologists, crime scene investigators, FBI agents and medical examiner investigators – professionals that I never would have had an opportunity to meet over the course of my normal grad school career. The instructors were almost all diplomates of the ABFA, ranging from Diane France, who is the director of the Human Identification Laboratory of Colorado, to Hugh Berryman, a professor at Middle Tennessee State University and Christian Crowder, the deputy director of the New York OCME. On the last day of class we received a tour of the new Baltimore OCME, a high-tech, fully equipped facility that was only a few years old. It made such an impression on me that it was the setting of a particularly vivid zombie nightmare I had a few months later.
If you’re at all interested in learning more about forensic anthropology I strongly recommend this course. It provides a unique opportunity to learn from a broad range of highly qualified forensic anthropologists, most of whom have worked all over the country on all different kinds of cases. The only other time all of these people get together is at professional conferences, when they likely won’t be so inclined to give you personalized instruction on how to use the shape of the palate to determine ancestry.
Here’s the link: 27th Annual NMHM Forensic Anthropology Course
*Actually it was on the grounds of getting more training in identifying trauma. The Middle and Late Woodland periods in Illinois were characterized by particularly low levels of violence (or, at least, low amounts of skeletally preserved violence), so I wanted to make sure I knew how to identify trauma before setting out on my own dissertation data collection.