This past year, my classmates at UIndy and I have spent countless hours in our osteology lab going over different methodologies including skeletal analysis. During my first field season in Brooks County in January, the majority of the time was spent conducting field work and seeing first hand why this mission was started. Fast forward a whole semester, here I am back in Texas and everything is different. The first half of this trip was spent at Texas State University’s ORPL conducting skeletal analysis. During those three days, our team conducted a total of 9 skeletal analyses as well as taking an interesting tour of their decomposition research facility, FARF. I enjoyed the skeletal analysis half of this trip for many reasons. This was the first time that our group was able to apply what we had learned in the classroom in an actual case setting.
After spending 3 days at ORPL, our group and a group from Texas State, traveled to Rio Grande City to start excavations of more unidentified individuals at the local cemetery. Although we are still on the same mission, conducting the same type of excavations of individuals who were never identified; there are several differences between the trip in January and this trip. Temperature was a big one- when we came in January, we also brought the cold Indiana weather with us. This time, we have been faced with both rain and sunny skies with temperatures in the 90s-100s.
The UIndy team was stationed at area 2 and we knew ahead of time that there were reportedly five individuals buried in our area. In Falfurrias, everything was haphazard when it came to finding unknown burials. In Rio Grande City, Texas State was given information from one of the funeral homes as to how many individuals to expect in each area. In area 2, we recovered the five individuals and then made sure there were no other burials in that area before calling it quits. The soil consistency in Falfurrias was sandy and much easier to dig; however, that also meant that we had issues with walls caving in as we dug down deeper. In Rio Grande City, the walls were hard, packed clay with large rocks. If it was not for Silvestre and his excavator, I am not sure how we would have excavated down to the level that we needed and survived the heat.
This trip was quit the experience and it feels bittersweet to have it end. Although I am incredibly happy to be able to go home and sleep in my own bed, I am going to miss the comradery and awesome team work that was displayed during this trip. Until next time…
Returning home is always bittersweet. We miss our families, pets, beds, etc… and are eager to get back to our normal routines. But it is also difficult to return home when there is so much more work to be done here Texas. Yesterday, the Texas State group invited us to their hotel for a last night together pool party. It was a great way to come together and celebrate a week of hard work and to unwind together.
We left bright and early for the long drive to the airport. We decided to stop for Whataburer taquitos to eat en route. About an hour into our journey I see a large furry spider crawling over the vent and towards my hands on the steering wheel. I’m not scared of spiders, but not knowing if it’s poisonous was frightening. So I turn to Erica in the co-pilot seat and ask her what to do. She tells me to pull over and immediately makes a mad dash from the van. She nearly stumbles into a fire ant mound and ends up in a mess of sticker burrs. The spider retreats behind the odometer (meaning we can’t remove it from the van and now have to drive over 3 hours watching to see if it emerges). We identified it as a jumping spider and read that they rarely bite humans and can jump over 50 times their body length.
As we drove north we had to go through the Falfurrias Border Patrol Checkpoint. We saw the construction work indicating the plans to expand the size of the checkpoint. We decided to make a pit stop in Falfurrias at the gas station next to the hotel where we always stay there. We just couldn’t imagine a trip to South TX without at least a few minutes in Falfurrias! Then we return the rental vehicle and make it to the airport with enough time for a last meal together.
It has been a very successful trip to South Texas! We analyzed 9 individuals at the lab at Texas State University and exhumed 5 individuals at the Rio Grande Cemetery. Not only did I have a great team of students that worked hard together as a team to get the work done. But we also had Jorge with us behind the scenes at the hotel each day. It took all of us working together to accomplish as much as we did this trip. Even though we are home, we will continue to post daily blogs for the next week or so. Please keep reading for more on our trip and our reflections. ~KEL
There are so many dedicated and hardworking volunteers working in the RGC Cemetery this week on the excavations. There are five of us from UIndy and a large group from Texas State University. We have already talked extensively about the challenges we face: the high temperatures, the difficulty digging in the ground here, and the depth of the burials (among other things). But, unlike what we faced in Sacred Heart Burial Park, each area of the cemetery where unidentified migrants are buried brings its own unique challenges.
The area that needs to be searched here is very large. While that might not be an issue in the sandy soil of Brooks County, here our normal search strategies are difficult or impossible. Probing the ground has proven impossible and the act of digging test pits or trenches is difficult and time consuming. Yet, they are still making progress and doing an incredible job facing the challenges of this particular site.
The area here is located on low ground. We had had several big overnight storms throughout the week that has left this area completely underwater. Yet, this group came up with strategies to remove the water from the pit and continue to work without much delay.
This group is digging their excavation area completely by hand. This burial is expected to be 5-6 feet below ground surface and is located in a place that the backhoe cannot reach. So they are using shovels to excavate the entire pit by hand. In this environment that is quite a task!
In this area of the cemetery the burials are deep! This has required a lot of digging to locate and remove each burial. Yet, this team has powered through it each day.
Every volunteer is facing the same collective challenges in addition to the unique challenges of their team’s particular excavation spot. It takes a lot of dedication, determination and strength to continue to make progress each day and we wanted to make sure all these hard workers are recognized!