Anthropology Dept. helps ID a body
September 24, 2009 9:57 PM
SF State anthropology graduate students were given hands-on experience with the exhumation of a Sonoma County Jane Doe on Sept. 3.
Associate Prof. and forensic anthropologist Mark Griffin and five graduate students were called in by the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department to disinter remains buried in a paupers section of a Santa Rosa cemetery in the 1960s.
"It was a bit intimidating at first in terms of working with the sheriff's department, but it turned out to be a great experience of camaraderie between the community and the anthropology department," said Jenn Marks a biological anthropology student involved in the dig.
Marks has been on prehistoric burial excavation sites in the past but never part of one as a forensic investigation.
"It was intense and I saw things that few people get to see," she said of her experience in Santa Rosa.
The Sheriff's department is working off new information about the Jane Doe, which they are not discussing publicly. After reviewing cemetery records and maps they brought in Griffin and the students to dig.
"The folks in the Sheriff's department, they see the importance of having this as an educational opportunity," said Griffin. "They get the expertise that they need and we get the training and the experience that we need.
After the remains were recovered they were sent to the Sonoma County coroner's office for cleaning which SF State student's assisted with. The remains were then brought to the SF State campus for further analysis.
Griffin's job is to determine the sex, race, age at death and any pathological conditions that may be found on the bones.
"They think they know who this Jane Doe is, so we are going to use the information that we can . . . and match that information up to the information that they have," said Griffin.
After the analysis is complete the skull will go to anthropology professor Cynthia Wilczak for a 3D scan using a NextEngine 3D digital scanner, so a facial reconstruction can be done..
"If you want to do a reconstruction, you don't want to use the skull itself," said Wilczak. "It will be scanned so we don't destroy any evidence."
Griffin is working long hours in his lab on campus to finish up the analysis report for the Sonoma County forensic pathologist.
"I am asking loads of questions and making certain that I absorb every detail so I can build my knowledge base," said Marks of her involvement in the continued process.
"[The experience] reiterated to me the significance of this department and the potential its graduates have to positively impact the community," she said.
Jane Doe's remains are still on campus and faculty members and students will be involved in a forensic facial reconstruction of the skull to help determine her identity. Other forensic tests like DNA analysis are being done in Sonoma County.
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