Forensic Anthropology Lab Instructs State Police

This fall, the MSU Forensic Anthropology Laboratory (MSUFAL) led a week-long training course for the Michigan State Police (MSP) on the analyses of human remains in the forensic death investigation. During this course, Michigan police from across the state learned about what information can be gained with forensic anthropology, how the methods involved in examining human remains are used, and how to properly excavate human remains from a burial so that evidence about the case is not lost.

Mari Isa discussing excavation of a plastic skeleton
PhD student Mari Isa discusses the excavation of a plastic skeleton during a training course for the Michigan State Police

The first two days of the course involved lectures on forensic anthropological methods. These lectures were given by anthropology faculty Dr. Joseph Hefner and Dr. Carolyn Isaac, and PhD students Mari Isa, Amber Plemons, Kelly Kamnikar, and Alex Goots. After the first day of lecture, attendees were assigned a skeleton from the MSUFAL’s donated collection and tasked with estimating the age at death, biological sex, ancestry, and stature of the individual based on what they learned.

After this series of lectures, participants went into the field for a day to learn how to search for clandestine burials and properly recover human remains. Four mock burials had been created the previous spring by burying plastic skeletons with fake evidence. Once the groups of state police located the mock burials, MSUFAL members taught them how to map, photograph, document, and correctly excavate a burial to recover human remains.

On the final day of the course, participants presented their findings from the skeletal analyses and mock cases, discussing the different methodological approaches they took for their specific burial circumstances. As the MSUFAL team and Michigan State Police continue working together in casework across the state, this training will facilitate best practices in cases involving human remains.

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