UMass Amherst Bioarchaeology and Forensic Anthropology Field School

UMass Amherst Bioarchaeology and Forensic Anthropology Field School This field school is offered on the campus of UMass Amherst for six weeks in the summer. The course offers students hands-on experience in field and lab methods in bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology.

This UMass Amherst field course introduces students to the role of the biological anthropologist, archaeologist and forensic scientist in the excavation of human remains. The course is divided into three sections: The first introduces students to field and laboratory techniques. Topics include understanding the human skeletal system, pathology and taphonomic analysis, discussion of what constitutes bioarchaeological or forensic data, and the role of violence theory in these fields. The second section consists of the students entering the field to gain hands-on experience. Excavations are of a pseudo-crime scene and pseudo-archaeological burial, and helps the students develop knowledge through the “Low Stakes, High Impact” learning model. The final section focuses on the laboratory techniques used to analyze the data generated from these two pseudo-excavation sites. Throughout the course we explore key concepts in ethics, repatriation, public outreach, medico-legal death investigation, and regulations regarding unmarked burials.

Operating as usual

The broader community of Belén, New Mexico is invited to and has excavated with us on our new project. We've been having...
07/17/2018

The broader community of Belén, New Mexico is invited to and has excavated with us on our new project. We've been having a wonderful time doing community-based archaeology, learning from and with the community, and talking about the broader goals of our project and the types of questions and data we use.

It's only the second day of the season for the field school staff and we've gotten in two units already at our new site ...
07/12/2018

It's only the second day of the season for the field school staff and we've gotten in two units already at our new site in Belén, NM!

Pictured is Field School Director Dr. Ventura Pérez and Field School Instructors Priscilla Mollard and Adam Netzer Zimmer, as well as Dr. Debra Martin and Claira Ralston of UNLV and Dr. Pamela Stone of Hampshire College.

Our field school students macerated this bear paw on Friday and it's almost completely skeletonized. Dermestid beetles w...
07/05/2018

Our field school students macerated this bear paw on Friday and it's almost completely skeletonized. Dermestid beetles work fast!

Bonus fun fact: skeletal bear paws are often mistaken as human hands out in the wild and forensic anthropologists are frequently asked to identify them.

We're in the middle of summer break, meaning now is the best time to start getting your grad school application ready. C...
07/03/2018
So, you want to go to grad school? Nail the inquiry email

We're in the middle of summer break, meaning now is the best time to start getting your grad school application ready. Check out this advice on the process of applying.

Maybe you’ve always know you’ve wanted to be a research professor in wildlife ecology. Perhaps you’ve just taken a course on fungi and stumbled into a whole new world of career po…

Our students had an eventful afternoon! Some of them learned how to do bucket flotation tests on soil samples, while oth...
06/21/2018

Our students had an eventful afternoon! Some of them learned how to do bucket flotation tests on soil samples, while others learned the basics of maceration techniques on a donated bear paw.

We had a great time today doing a site visit at the The Emily Dickinson Museum and Archaeological Field School at the Em...
06/20/2018

We had a great time today doing a site visit at the The Emily Dickinson Museum and Archaeological Field School at the Emily Dickinson Museum. Thanks for showing us around!

Forensics Team Week 2 SummaryKera Takacs, Brooke Barteaux, Viveka Jensen, Bear Gibbs, Jason RasmussenPlease be aware tha...
06/17/2018

Forensics Team Week 2 Summary
Kera Takacs, Brooke Barteaux, Viveka Jensen, Bear Gibbs, Jason Rasmussen

Please be aware that the following summary is about a constructed burial made for teaching purposes using cast materials

This week we continued excavating in two separate units in two different areas of the crime scene due to multiple possible burials, which we ascertained based on surface indicators of human activity (artificial elevation changes in the soil that are uniform). In the B unit, near the north fence, some material culture was found. The materials were bagged and labeled as evidence. Digging then continued until the soil became sterile, meaning there was no mottling, a clear indicator of previous human activity. At this point the B unit was closed to further investigation. In the D unit, the team found much more mottled soil, and followed the soil patterns by excavating out and down. Excavation down into the unit continued until the first skeletal element was exposed. At this point, excavation continued, but much more carefully as the human remains were at risk of being compromised by trowels. The skeletal remains were fully uncovered by the end of Thursday. Friday was spent recovering the remains, mapping in their location, finding the limits of the grave, and analyzing the soil (using Munsell and taking samples). Once this was complete we cleaned up our unit and left the field. Next week we will begin lab analysis. At this point we are on schedule with where we need to be.

Bioarchaeology Team 2018 Week 2 summaryMaura Smith, Sage Grunwald, Claire McCroary, Kristina Perez, Elizabeth (Tess) Bog...
06/17/2018

Bioarchaeology Team 2018 Week 2 summary
Maura Smith, Sage Grunwald, Claire McCroary, Kristina Perez, Elizabeth (Tess) Bogar-Wyman

Please be aware that the following summary is about a constructed burial made for teaching purposes using cast materials.

Day 6 (6/11/18)
We focused on the area that unit 1 was in and leveled out units 1, 3, and 4 to be the same. Then we decided that it would be best to open a 1.5m x 1.5m unit (unit 5) where units 1 and 4 were, while also opening a 1.3m x 1.17m unit (unit 6) where unit 2 wass. We decided the length of unit 6 because of the walls that were set up from units 1, 3, and 4, as well as where the unit 5 datum point was.

Day 7 (6/12/18)
We opened and started digging in units 5 and 6, where we spent most of the day. We decided that half of unit 5 was sterile soil based off of soil changes that were seen when digging. We also decided that a part of unit 6 was also sterile soil based off of soil changes as well. We found bits of pottery, a marble slab, and two candlesticks. We then decided that we would restring a bigger unit day 7 and combine units 5 and 6.

Day 8 (6/13/18)
We started the day by leveling out units 5 and 6 and then combining units 5 and 6 to make unit 7. We started digging and near the end of the day we saw a distinct soil change and found bits of pottery, as well as candlesticks. We took out the marble slab and dug down to about 50cm. Around 50cm we uncovered what we thought was some sort of seashells but turned out to be the the distal ends of two femurs! After that, the team rapidly uncovered the right and left tibias, some metatarsals, and a skull, which we used to estimate orientation of the body and the grave hole that the body was placed in. We now needed to restring first thing day 9 to make the unit wider and uncover the rest of the body.

Day 9 (6/14/18)
The team restrung our unit first thing when we got to the site to make it into a 1.5m x 2m unit dubbed unit 8. We uncovered more bones of the body and discovered what appeared to be an intact skeleton in the feature. A couple of our members took measurements from most of the long bones that were fully showing and also the patellas, the right foot, and the left hand. While doing this, other members continued revealing the body, and discovered 3 shirt buttons, a buckle of some sort, 3 possible bullets, and 3 pieces of a rosary. The arms of the body are crossed across their stomach with the hands crossing above the pelvis, which made excavating the torso trickier.

Day 10 (6/15/18)
On our final day at the site, we spent the morning excavating and mapping the body. We worked more slowly than we would have liked, however, by midday we had extracted the entire skeleton and moved our attention to digging out the limits of the feature. As we were defining the limits of our feature, we discovered that there was very likely a second feature right next to it to the south. Despite this, we did not have time to excavate it properly, or even roughly (which we did not want to do), as we still needed to finish work on our first feature. Thus, we decided to leave it. During this time, we found a couple of objects near the Northern edge of the first feature that we believe are made of leather. We also took several soil samples and took a brick from D3 that we had over-looked bagging while removing other surface materials. Finally, once we had finished, we disassembled our site and brought the artifacts and body back to the lab. Next week, it is time to clean and analyze everything we have recovered, and try to figure out the story of our burial!

The students have so close to having all of the skeletal elements recovered! (All pictured elements are cast materials)
06/15/2018

The students have so close to having all of the skeletal elements recovered! (All pictured elements are cast materials)

Both teams found their burials yesterday and they're cruising along to have them removed by tomorrow afternoon! (All pic...
06/15/2018

Both teams found their burials yesterday and they're cruising along to have them removed by tomorrow afternoon! (All pictured elements are cast material)

Both teams have found remains!
06/13/2018

Both teams have found remains!

Day 6 in the field - both teams have picked up the pace considerably.
06/12/2018

Day 6 in the field - both teams have picked up the pace considerably.

Both teams opened up new units today and the forensics team made an interesting discovery! No confirmation of burials ye...
06/11/2018

Both teams opened up new units today and the forensics team made an interesting discovery! No confirmation of burials yet but there's still awhile left in the field portion.

Forensic Team 2018: Week One ExcavationKera Takacs, Viveka Jensen, Bear Gibbs, Brooke Barteaux, Jason RasmussenJune 8th,...
06/09/2018

Forensic Team 2018: Week One Excavation

Kera Takacs, Viveka Jensen, Bear Gibbs, Brooke Barteaux, Jason Rasmussen

June 8th, 2018: During the first week, we first entered the scene and discovered the bioarchaeology team in the site. Unfortunately, when they started their transect surveying they contaminated a portion of the scene, which we taped off for case context despite the evidence being inadmissible in court. Next, we ran transects across the site, both east to west and north to south. These transects were run by both the forensics team and the bioarchaeology team with our team being in control of the site and potential evidence. After all the evidence and artifacts were uncovered we split into our respective groups. Half of our team began by cataloguing all of the evidence that was within the whole of the site, and the other half started planning sectors out for mapping. With the sectors planned out, we were able to map each piece of evidence deemed relevant to our case. We then collected our items and placed them into proper evidence bags and with that, we decided what items and land we could relinquish to the bioarchaeology team.

From that point, on day 3, we began digging test units and shovel test pits using judgement sampling. When discoloration and mottled soil were uncovered in test pits or test units, we focused our attention on those, and have backfilled those that have been determined unlikely locations for burials.

At this point in our excavations, we have not uncovered a body, but have found promising evidence and context that indicates where a burial may be.

Bioarchaeology Team 2018 - Week 1 summaryMaura Smith, Sage Grunwald, Claire McCroary, Kristina Perez, Elizabeth (Tess) W...
06/09/2018

Bioarchaeology Team 2018 - Week 1 summary

Maura Smith, Sage Grunwald, Claire McCroary, Kristina Perez, Elizabeth (Tess) Wyman

It’s not a first day of field work unless it rains. Despite the inclement weather, the team started off by traversing the site to identify any above ground artifacts, though our initial attempt was slowed by accidental contamination of the forensic site and collaboration with the forensics team was made necessary. After that was done, we made somewhat extensive maps of the site which we divided into sections A-D from west to east and 1-3 north to south. Much of our time in day 2 was occupied with raking up leaves and collecting any artifacts that we overlooked during our initial walk-through of the site since it wasn’t drizzling as much, however we could only examine ground that the forensic team relinquished control over thus making our progress somewhat limited at first. Raking up leaf fill allowed us to observe the ground for any color irregularities or depressions and we noted a few points of interest with suspicious depressions and/or soil changes that we determined were worth further examination. We also had a chance to dig our first shovel test pits and found disturbed soil in C1, though the area was returned to forensics due to their further discoveries within the contaminated area.

Setting up a test unit in section D2 was our next step due to the aforementioned suspicious depressions, and a shovel test pit we’d dug earlier revealing further soil anomalies, and we discovered a slab of slate that was unlike anything we had seen on the surface. In the midst of these discoveries, we placed Unit 2 at a point of interest in section D1 as well. Unfortunately this effort proved fruitless, as we only unearthed sterile soil there and we decided to look elsewhere. We added on a new addition to our first test unit and tried a few shovel test pits in section D3, but the later shovel pits were also for naught. After digging 30cm (or 3 levels) down into the addition to Unit 1 (dubbed Unit 3), we connected another 1x1 meter square to Unit 1 because we thought that it was the most promising area for excavation so far.

All in all, we’ve learned a lot over the course of the week including logistical and practical field work like how to actually go about digging shovel test pits and that the sound of hollow soil may actually indicate tree roots rather than more interesting hollow ground as well as how to work with a forensics unit when both burials are confined within a small (and already contaminated) space.

It wouldn't be a first day in the field without a steady downpour.
06/06/2018

It wouldn't be a first day in the field without a steady downpour.

06/04/2018

We're practicing pacing and mapping today. It was a good reprieve from the rain.

06/02/2018

We had a great day yesterday exploring some of the demographic information you can find on historical grave markers. And we finished the week with a stop at Flayvors of Cook Farm.

We had a lecture today on mapping and locating sites, so what good timing with this NPR story on LiDAR
05/30/2018
Scientists Use Lasers To Map An Ancient City In Jordan

We had a lecture today on mapping and locating sites, so what good timing with this NPR story on LiDAR

The researchers used a technology known as LiDAR to map the city of Jerash. It's helping them understand its past, as a growing modern city encroaches on the well-preserved ancient site.

Students presented their forensic anthropology and bioarchaeology case studies today. One of them was the ground-breakin...
05/29/2018

Students presented their forensic anthropology and bioarchaeology case studies today. One of them was the ground-breaking research done through excavations of the New York African Burial Ground.

Our field school director, Dr. Ventura Pérez, is delivering his lecture on violence theory and its applicability to bioa...
05/25/2018

Our field school director, Dr. Ventura Pérez, is delivering his lecture on violence theory and its applicability to bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology.

We've transitioned to trauma and pathology analysis (all pictured elements are cast material).
05/24/2018

We've transitioned to trauma and pathology analysis (all pictured elements are cast material).

We're in the middle of our developmental osteology/forensic illustration lab! (All pictured elements are cast material)
05/23/2018

We're in the middle of our developmental osteology/forensic illustration lab! (All pictured elements are cast material)

The students are about to find out just why they're building abstract Lego structures. Here's hoping their descriptive w...
05/22/2018

The students are about to find out just why they're building abstract Lego structures. Here's hoping their descriptive writing skills are up to par.

Dr. Jennifer Byrnes, University of Hawai'i West O'ahu and co-editor of the recent book "Bioarchaeology of Impairment and...
04/09/2018
Not As-Seen-On-TV Forensic Anthropology

Dr. Jennifer Byrnes, University of Hawai'i West O'ahu and co-editor of the recent book "Bioarchaeology of Impairment and Disability", talks about what it's really like to work as an forensic anthropologist in the U.S.

The smell of jet fuel was overwhelming, the air was frigid, and my adrenalin was pumping, making it difficult to breathe. Continental Flight 3407 had crashed less than 48 hours beforehand in a suburb

03/21/2018
Classroom Skeleton: Whose Bones Are These?

Here's a fantastic new video from Skunk Bear by NPR about the skeletons used by many teaching institutions and what the tools we use in bioarchaeology & forensic anthropology can teach us about them!

Using the tools of forensic anthropology, we investigate the life and times of the mysterious skeleton we found in a high school art room. ↓↓ Links & Info ↓↓...

03/19/2018

Wow! We received a record number of applications for our 2018 field season!

We anticipate making final decisions within the next couple weeks. If you have any questions, please contact us here or at our email: [email protected]

The mystery deepens...or does it?Applications for our 2018 field season are TODAY! Make sure your materials are in on ti...
03/18/2018
Have we really found Amelia Earhart's bones?

The mystery deepens...or does it?

Applications for our 2018 field season are TODAY! Make sure your materials are in on time: umass.edu/bioarchaeology/applynow.html

A new study claims that the Nikumaroro Island bones are those of the famous aviator. But some researchers remain skeptical

We've already received more applications than available spots for the 2018 season. Be sure that all of your application ...
03/14/2018
Field Journals | VCL | UMass Amherst

We've already received more applications than available spots for the 2018 season. Be sure that all of your application materials are in by the March 18 deadline!

While you're preparing your application, read some of the field journals from past seasons.

This UMass Amherst field course introduces students to the role of the biological anthropologist, archaeologist and forensic scientist in the excavation of human remains. In addition, students will learn how professionals work in the field, examine ethical issues and guidelines, and explore question...

Do you have questions about our field school? Many of them are answered on our FAQs page. Applications for our 2018 fiel...
03/13/2018
Field School FAQs | VCL | UMass Amherst

Do you have questions about our field school? Many of them are answered on our FAQs page.
Applications for our 2018 field season are due March 18!

This UMass Amherst field course introduces students to the role of the biological anthropologist, archaeologist and forensic scientist in the excavation of human remains. In addition, students will learn how professionals work in the field, examine ethical issues and guidelines, and explore question...

The flood of applications for our 2018 field season has begun. Only 6 more days to submit yours!
03/12/2018
Application Process | VCL | UMass Amherst

The flood of applications for our 2018 field season has begun. Only 6 more days to submit yours!

This UMass Amherst field course introduces students to the role of the biological anthropologist, archaeologist and forensic scientist in the excavation of human remains. In addition, students will learn how professionals work in the field, examine ethical issues and guidelines, and explore question...

Interested in reading about previous years' excavations? Check out the field journals at our Alumni & Friends page. And ...
03/01/2018
Alumni & Friends

Interested in reading about previous years' excavations? Check out the field journals at our Alumni & Friends page.

And be sure to submit your applications for our 2018 field season by the March 18 deadline!

The Violence and Conflict Laboratory (VCL) at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst provides the infrastructural and analytical support for the creation of a cohort of students working on issues of violence in both its biological and cultural manifestations. Through the lenses of bioarchaeology a...

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Our 2019 field season is on its way! It will run May 20th - June 28th, and applications are due March 22nd. Please visit: https://www.umass.edu/anthro/fieldschool_files/manifesto OR email: [email protected] for the application or more information.
Our 2019 field season is May 20th - June 28th! Applications are due March 22nd. Please email [email protected] or visit https://www.umass.edu/anthro/fieldschool_files/manifesto for an application form.
I thought this new page may be of interest to some of you. I'd welcome any suggestions and would love to hear about any interesting skulls you may have worked with. Crania Hibernica - Tales of Irish Skulls This page aims to tell the tales behind skulls with an Irish connection. The claim “Tales of Irish Skulls” is therefore rather presumptive as I intent to deal not only with skulls of Irish indigenous people but any skull with an Irish connection. Neither am I limiting the scope of the site to real skulls but include casts, artistic representations and narratives. www.facebook.com/craniahibernica/
Last week of field school! Sending love from CO!