Yesterday, there was an article in the New York Times titled, “In Bones, He Sees the Clues From Life” which profiles the work of Dr. Bradley Adams, the forensic anthropologist for the city of New York. According to the city’s chief medical examiner, Adams’ specialty is taphonomy, or figuring out the
“tool marks on dismembered bones,” referring to the practice of examining chips, cuts and other marks on a bone to divine what kind of weapon was used.
His work has been significant, because there is a need for skeletal analysis for identifying remains, in lieu of a plethora of genetic studies. This is especially relevant for indentifying the remains of 9/11 vicitims.
The article goes on to identify Adams ethics behind his work,
When he was a graduate student in Tennessee, Dr. Adams and another student received a call from the police, who had found a skull and bones in the woods. The police told him they were sure it belonged to a woman who had gone missing. They suspected her husband, Dr. Adams recalled.
“We looked down at the skull, and within five seconds told them, ‘This is not the woman you’re looking for,’ ” he said. The skull the officers had found, Dr. Adams determined, belonged to a little girl. “Just to see their faces and how the whole operation changed,” he said. “Calls went out, the F.B.I. got involved and they started gathering information on missing children from the area.” The body turned out to be that of a 7-year-old girl who had been murdered.
Aside from profiling the work of NYC forensic anthropologists, I think the most important factoid from this article is the statement that a, “few big cities have forensic anthropologists on staff.” Anthropology is most oftenly critiqued for its lack of real world jobs, and I think this is a case that refutes that stereotype. Anthropology, specifically forensic anthropology and archaeology, can be used to repatriate artifacts, displaced cultures, and lost or murdered peoples to give understanding and closure to past lives. And for all you college students looking for a potential career in anthropology, what are you waiting for? Be a forensic anthropologist!
P.S. – Dr. Adams also worked on last years facial reconstruction of King Tut!