April 18, 2008

Forensic Lab - Mapping

This week in class, I've been talking about various aspects of the recovery process in forensic cases, but mostly locating and recording human skeletal remains. This is also apparently our first week of spring in upstate NY, with the temperatures soaring to about 75 degrees today. So I held lab outside and simulated a forensic scene so that the students could map the body and associated artifacts.

My TA (Sarah) and I had fun setting up the scene. We ran a large tape measure 28', ran five 6' tape measures perpendicularly, and strung twine along the remaining 28', making four 5'x7' squares (ok, so they're rectangles, but you see what I mean). I had a 5' tall glow-in-the-dark plastic skeleton my mom bought me at some kind of post-Halloween sale, which we clumsily disarticulated and strewed amongst the four squares. Sarah brought some empty liquor bottles, including a 40 of Coors Light, and I brought clothes, shoes, jewelry, a murder weapon, and an ID card.

Each group then mapped one of the 5'x7' squares by triangulating a few points on each bone or object and plotting the point on graph paper. The less spatially-minded students were a bit slower at this task, but eventually everyone got the hang of triangulating and mapping. I snapped a bunch of pictures of both classes working, as well as pictures of each square and some overhead pics from the anthropology department office and from my own office. (Clicking on the link will get you to a webpage with all the photos and labels.)

The ID card that I planted in the second square was Patrick's infamous Virginia Tech ID from his first year - the one where he has long hair and a moustache and looks like a serial killer. The students got a kick out of this:

"Hey, there's an ID."
"Oooh, it's a guy. Wait. Oh yeah, a guy with long hair."
"Patrick A. Reynolds. Arthur. Andrew. Adam. Hm."
"I guess X/XX/78 is his birthday?"
"So the killer is 30 years old."
"Wait, what if this Patrick Reynolds isn't the killer? What if he was the one wearing the blouse and skirt?"

At that point, I was laughing pretty hard. One of the students asked me who Patrick is, and I admitted it was my husband. But that it was an old picture and he doesn't really look like a serial killer.

Anyway, after 3 hours in the sun, I was hot, dehydrated, and sunburned. But the lab went pretty well, and I think most of the students enjoyed it. I can't wait to see what they wrote on their labs about the identity of the victim and the perpetrator. (If anyone would like a copy of the lab, click here.)

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