Skulls on a Beach: "Currents carry many dead things to Punuk Island making it the graveyard of the Bering Sea." (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“The world dies over and over again, but the skeleton always gets up and walks.” -Henry Miller
Human ivory: the everlasting element. The skin will fade with time but who we are will forever remain the same, for bone will outlast everything. Our face will never be lost with time for it’s there, etch forever in the osseous tissue. Centuries may pass but our bones won’t. And the bone readers will always reveal us.
The year was 1849 and a man called Parkman disappeared. A suspect without a body appeared. In the assay oven, a Harvard janitor suspicious of Dr. Webster–the last man to see Parkman—found burned bones and false teeth. Dr. Wyman, an anatomy professor, led a forensic team and found that it matched a person of Parkman’s size and height. The dentures were recognized by Parkman’s dentist. This was the first significant piece of history for the field of forensic anthropology.
On February 11, 1938 the Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, wrote the Secretary of the Smithsonian, C. G. Abbot, requesting the assistant of Aleš Hrdli…ka, an anthropologist whose was described as the best in his field, to examine bones thought to be human remains. They were not of human origin but this began the Smithsonian-FBI collaboration in Forensic Anthropology that still exists today.
The modern era of forensic anthropology began just a year later when W. M. Krogman published his Guide to the Identification of Human Skeletal Material in the F.B.I. Law Enforcement Bulletin. Krogman also published the first book on forensic anthropology, The Human Skeleton in Forensic Medicine. This sparked interest and carried the field forward into the future of forensics.
In 1972, The Physical Anthropology Section of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences was established.
The bone readers have grown and multiplied. They are there to find us, to recreate our faces, and to say our name aloud. Time may pass but we won’t.
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A fly may conquer a lion – Proverb
There is a beginning for everything. Everything starts with a story. Every story—real or fiction—has a purpose. The purpose can start a phenomenon in history. History can shape the present. The present is now. And now can make a better tomorrow.
In the Southern Sung Dynasty of ancient China, the year was 1235 and a murder was solved using insect activity. Sung Tzu, a lawyer and death investigator, was called to a village were a man was killed by a sickle. No one saw the murder. How could the killer be apprehended if he couldn’t be identified? Sung Tzu had the men of the village lay their sickles in the middle of the town square. He waited days. Files were attracted to one specific sickle. The reason: it had invisible tissue on it. The man owning the sickle confessed. Thus the beginning of entomology: the “science of determining a time frame and/or circumstance from the empirical evidence of insect activity on or around the site in question”.
Even though the story began in the thirteenth century, it was not used seriously till the twentieth century. And across the seven hundred years, entomology evolved. The Italian physician, Francesco Redi, made the first significant step in 1668. Spontaneous generation was a widely accepted theory that rotting meat created maggots. Redi disproved this theory. This led to the eventual devilment of insect life cycles. A little under two hundred years later, Dr. Bergeret d’Arbois, a French physician, became the first to use entomology to determine the time of death.
Entomology became a subject of fascination when Edgar Allen Poe published the poem “The Conqueror Worm”, where it described maggots feeding on a corpse. Later still, French veterinarian and entomologist, Jean Pierre Megnin, wrote two books in a common language discussing insect life cycles and decomposition. But the use of entomology in forensic was limited in the nineteenth and twentieth century because the lack technology.
In 2007, DNA analysis was used to distinct between species and to offer a more accurate determination of the “age” of eggs and larvae. This allowed a more precise assumption of the time of death.
From a tale of a sickle and to the science of DNA, entomology has skidded into the court rooms. Our everyday annoyance helps solve even the most demanding of cases by simply living out their cycle.
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