Homeward Bound

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 spiderWhataburer 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.

fullsizerender-6It 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

Education for Service

The University of Indianapolis’ motto is “education for service.”  For some students, these aspects of service include various volunteer opportunities and community involvement projects coordinated through the Volunteers in Service (VIS) program and the Center for Service-Learning and Community Engagement. For the Beyond Borders team, service means helping a community that is experiencing a mass disaster beyond belief.  We take the knowledge and experience we have gained in the classroom and apply it in a real-world setting – identifying individuals who perished crossing the US-Mexico border in order to repatriate them back to their families.  Applying my education in this type of setting is very different from merely learning and taking tests in school.  In the classroom, I am surrounded by teachers and classmates that are at my beck and call for guidance when I have questions or need clarification.  While Dr. Latham and my other team members are more than willing to help when I have questions, everyone is working on different tasks simultaneously which really pushes me to trust my knowledge, experience, and skill-set.  It also teaches me to be independent while concurrently working as a member of a team that has a common goal.

At the end of each case, Dr. Latham checks all of the work we have done to make sure that our analyses were conducted properly.  This allows for us as students to apply our education in a setting that is more independent than a classroom project, but is still checked and under the guidance of Dr. Latham. While this new-found independence is a little scary at first, it has allowed me to gain invaluable skills and experience that one simply cannot get in a classroom setting. I learn something new every time Dr. Latham checks our work, so this trip is an incredible learning experience for all of us and is morphing us into better scientists and forensic anthropologists in the process.   I believe that this project truly exemplifies our school’s motto, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to be involved in this humanitarian effort in South Texas.  Not only does it expose us to the crisis occurring at the border, it allows us to apply our education in a way that helps others and allows us to grow as individuals and as advocates for human rights.



Day 5 (Field): The Heat is On

And with that, another field season in the books! And it wouldn’t be a Texas trip if we didn’t end it on the hottest and most humid day of the week! Today’s high was a mild 103 degrees with a heat index that reached 112 degrees right around noon. Thankfully, we did have some cloud cover today that made the temperature a little more bearable but we knew that we had to hit the ground running this morning before it got too warm. Fortunately, for a team like ours, this was no problem.


The beginning of the day involved moving a lot of dirt. A LOT of dirt. We had at least a couple of feet of hard, rocky clay to remove in order to uncover and remove the last burial in the area. Additionally, we had to remove a lot of the extra loose dirt around the burial so that it wouldn’t all just fall back on top and recover it. In our normal, and now very practiced fashion, we were able to efficiently complete this arduous task by utilizing our rotation system so that no one was getting to wiped out early on in the day. By 10:30 am, we had uncovered the final burial in area 2 of the Rio Grande Cemetery.


By this point, our pit had taken on quite a weird shape. In order to get in and out we had to create a large step in the back of the pit for us to climb up and down. This made removing the remains quite an interesting task. We all got together to come up with a plan for how we were going to go about this. Because of our preparedness, and critical and creative thinking, however, we were able to remove the remains from the pit very smoothly, completing the fifth and last burial in our area.

In order to be thorough, however, it was decided that we should dig a trench in the back wall of our pit in order to ensure that there were no other burials in this area. This was no small task, as the back wall was approximately 5-6 feet high.

Haley fitting perfectly within our test trench
Haley fitting perfectly within our test trench

We decided to rebuild our ramp (more like a slide) and start the trench with the step we had built into the back wall. We resumed our rotation system and each took turns using the mattock (see: awesome pickaxe tool) to dig our trench. After digging to almost six feet again in the heat we felt confident that there were no other burials in this area. And with that, area 2 was closed!

We finished off the day cheers-ing our Mexican cokes and ate our lunch in the air conditioned hotel. Tonight, we will be heading down the road to join our Texas State comrades for a pool party at their hotel! It’s been another great trip here in Texas, and it will be bittersweet to be leaving tomorrow. But I know that all of us are proud of what we have accomplished these last ten days and I am excited to see what the future holds in South Texas. Hasta luego!