Much of the work we’re doing this week focuses on finishing as many cases as possible, but today we were given many chances to experience how individuals at the Osteological Research and Processing Laboratory (ORPL) contribute to this humanitarian endeavor in other ways. One of the opportunities we had was working with forensic odontologist Dr. James P. Fancher. He kindly offered to show us his methodology and gave us the chance to help him with some dental cases. We were able to watch him take pictures and x-rays of teeth, and he even let us take a few radiographs ourselves. Since we normally do not focus on the dentition in this way, it was great to be able to see this part of the process.
Another facet we got to experience was the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility (FARF). I have never been to a decomposition facility before, so it was truly an experience to get to see all the research being conducted there. The facility stretches 26 acres, and we got to see quite a few different types of studies as we walked through the fields. We were given a tour by Dr. Kate Spradley about the research that’s being conducted there, including burials, surface taphonomy, and scavenging studies. It was fascinating to see all the research and how it will contribute to our current understanding of human decomposition in different environments.
A third opportunity we had was learning how to process human remains and personal effects the Texas State way. Dr. Tim Gocha directed us as the other team members and I removed skeletal material from a body bag into a large pot for processing. We also removed all of the clothing from the bag in order to be cleaned later. I then got the chance to help take photos of the personal effects from another individual. I was able to assist by laying out the clothes and arranging them for the photographs, as well as noting any labels or sizes that may help in the identification process.
While I always really enjoy getting to participate in creating the biological profile, I have also really appreciated getting these opportunities. Learning how casework is done at different facilities has really improved my skills as a student of forensic anthropology. It was also really great to see how other members of this collaborative effort help in identifying missing individuals. I can’t wait to see what new opportunities tomorrow brings.
Today we flew into Texas and settled in before beginning our work at Texas State University tomorrow morning. We began our journey with an early 8 am flight first to Dallas, and then to San Antonio. I was definitely tired after the flight, but that quickly dissipated as soon as I got off the plane.
Once we arrived, we were able to spend a little time sight-seeing around San Antonio. Lunch was our first stop, and we decided to go to a restaurant called Moses Rose’s Hideout. Apparently when you enter you’re supposed to knock on the door, give a secret password, and do something embarrassing for all the other restaurant goers to see before you’re allowed to enter. Unfortunately for us, it was lunch and we were the only ones there, so we did not get to embarrass ourselves. Regardless, the food was amazing.
After lunch we decided to visit the Alamo, as I had never been there before. I was
astonished by the beautiful architecture and gardens we walked through. I was excited to learn more about the history of the Alamo, but I kept getting distracted by the beautiful scenery, and of course the souvenirs in the gift shop.
Subsequently, we decided to drive up to San Marcos to prepare for our week of lab work. On our way, we stopped at Buc-ee’s, which when I asked if it was a gas station turned out to be quite an understatement. Not only was the gas station huge, but also the store itself. They seemed to have everything and anything I could want at a rest stop. And of course, we couldn’t resist taking a photo with the Buc-ee statue.
Once we arrived at our hotel in San Marcos and settled in, we headed to H-E-B to buy lunches and dinners for the week. The rest of the evening was ours to relax and prepare ourselves for the tough, but fulfilling work to come. While many of the team members had been to these places before, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the stories of years past and making new memories. I really appreciated getting to see some of the sites of San Antonio today, and even more excited to get to work tomorrow morning. I’m thrilled to be participating in this humanitarian effort with this group of people.
Right now, everything seems to be happening all at once, leaving little time to prepare for this upcoming trip to Texas. We leave in less than a week and finals are just beginning. Between finishing finals, preparing the lab for our move, and getting ready for Texas, it seems like a never-ending impossibly long list of tasks that need to be accomplished before the end of the week. It’s scary and yet exhilarating at the same time.
Ever since I first learned about the work we do in Texas, I knew I wanted to go. I’ve heard the stories about the 2 seasons of back-breaking excavations and the fulfillment of work that will hopefully lead to individuals being returned to their families for a proper burial. I’ve heard the stories of last year, of the emotional but life changing experiences of interacting with the migrant families at Karnes County Residential Center, of the gratification of building the water stations, and of the knowledge that our work has helped successfully reunite 6 of the deceased with their families. These stories are the reason why I’m in this program, and why I cannot wait to continue the good work that has been done in the past 3 years and return with my own stories.
For the moment though, my work consists of preliminary packing, passing my classes, and mentally preparing for this emotionally consuming endeavor. I plan on reviewing my skeletal analysis skills and Spanish before we leave in addition to packing for a climate that I have not been exposed to for awhile. This wont be my first time to Texas, I used to spend 3 weeks of my summers at ballet camps in Austin and San Antonio. I remember loving those two cities, and I’m very excited to go to San Marcos and Falfurrias, which I’ve never been to before.
Right now, it feels like I’m trying to get everything ready in a whirlwind of obligations. But I know that it will all come together and that we’ll all be prepared by the time our flight leaves on Sunday morning. Words can’t express how grateful I am for this opportunity and the impression it will leave on me and the experiences I will gain from it. I hope that I’m able to give back just as much.