All posts by rockh

Learning is Doing

Two team members in the lab.

I think my learning style has always been hands-on.  I wonder now if it is because I compensated for my vision problems when I was a child by using my hands or if that is just naturally how I learn.  Regardless of the reason, I am so thankful for the opportunities the University of Indianapolis offers us, to use the knowledge we learn in our classes and implement that knowledge in a real world situation.  It is my goal to become a forensic anthropologist.  I know this will be a tough journey, but I am determined to get there.  I feel so thankful to have two board certified forensic anthropologists to learn from at UIndy.  It is interesting to see how both Dr. Nawrocki and Dr. Latham do things, and how while they both practice forensic anthropology, each professor does certain things slightly differently because that way works best for them.  I really appreciate being able to observe both of their styles, enabling me to gain multiple perspectives of the field.

This semester I took Human Osteology with Dr. Nawrocki, and then I was able to apply the knowledge I gained in his class during our lab days in Texas.  While applying this knowledge, I was also able to observe how Dr. Latham conducts skeletal analyses.  I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to apply my knowledge while observing Dr. Latham because I learned so much in the process.  We each develop methods for doing things that work best for us.  It is often the case that we model our own work after our mentors.  I appreciate being able observe both Dr. Nawrocki and Dr. Latham as they work because they each had different mentors in their time as students learning the field of forensic anthropology.  It allows me to develop my own methods modeled after each of theirs, as I find my way as a student studying to become a forensic anthropologist.

I am so thankful to have had this amazing opportunity to test my knowledge and to further gain knowledge on how to conduct skeletal analyses.  It is one thing to learn in a classroom, but it is a completely different thing to apply what you learned in the classroom to a real life situation.  My time doing lab work in Texas has enabled me to see the areas where I need to further study but also the areas where I feel most comfortable.  It has helped me gain a better understanding of the field of forensic anthropology and it has helped me understand that developing your own style within this field is perfectly acceptable.  I am so glad the University of Indianapolis offers experiences such as these because I feel it was incredibly beneficial to me on so many levels.


A group selfie of five people in a car.

Day 3 (field)- Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Today was our third day in the field.  Our mission today was to uncover two more burials.  We started bright and early at 6:30am, the coolest part of any day in Starr County, Texas.  We had a slight cloud covering and a cool breeze to start our workday, which was incredibly motivating and refreshing, not to mention the gorgeous sunrise that occurred this morning.

Sun rise over Starr County.
Starr County rising sun

We began our work by removing the tarp we used to shade the 1st burial from the sun and any passersby.  The tarp worked nicely to protect the burial from the rain last night.  After removing the tarp, we began our exhumation process.  Because it was cool this morning, we each took 10 minute turns working in the pit.  We decreased our turn time to 5 minutes as the day wore on, due to the hot sun.

Team members removing a tarp from the trench.
Removing the tarp

We removed 2 burials from the pit today.  In the morning, the dirt was softened from the rain making it much softer in consistency and easier to remove.  As we dug deeper into the pit, the soil was much drier and more difficult to get through than the top muck layer.  As we got closer to the burial, the stratigraphy took on a clay layer, which was most difficult to get through.  A mattock has proven to be completely essential in this process due to the clay layer.  It is also very fun to use.

The burials we removed today were much easier to remove than the one from yesterday.  Yesterday’s burial (the 1st) went deep into the eastern wall of our pit, making it extremely difficult to remove.  Today’s burials did not extend deep into either the eastern or western walls, making them much easier to exhume.

Team members using shovels in the trench.
Shoveling down

After removing the 3rd burial from the pit, we decided that we needed to move further toward the north end of our area.  We asked Silvestre to come back with his backhoe to fill in the pit most of the way while digging the northern most wall back several inches allowing us to continue our exhumations.  As he filled in the pit with the dirt that had been removed previously, we asked him to create a ramp for us so that we could safely enter and exit the pit since our stairs were destroyed when he took down a portion of the northern-most wall.  After Silvestre finished with our pit, we cleaned up our area and cracked open our bottles of Coke.  We decided yesterday when we were at H-E-B to get one Coke for each of us for each of the next three days.  It has become our tradition to crack open a cold bottle of Coke when we finish our work for the day.  There is something truly wonderful about a glass bottle of Coke at the end of a long day.  We did a quick toast and then our group picture for the day.  Today we decided to do our group picture in the van in the A/C.

A backhoe filling in the pit.
Silvestre filling in the pit

Today was an extremely successful day.  We worked efficiently and very well as a team.  This allowed us to uncover two burials and work safely.  We implemented a 5-minute work time followed by a 5-minute break.  On each break, we would drink a lot of water and reapply sunscreen.  We implemented these rules to avoid anyone having heat stroke.  These rules will be essential in the coming days as the temperature increases steadily.

I am truly amazed by my teammates.  I appreciate so much the communication they have with each other and me.  When something needs to be done, we are not offended by instruction from another person.  When we are in each other’s way, we are not offended by a “move.”  It is amazing what can be accomplished by teamwork.  I am very much looking forward to the next two days of field work.  We have experienced both trials and tribulations, but we continue to move forward, finding new and improved ways to do things along the way.  Tomorrow is a new day and I am looking forward to seeing what it brings.


Team members helping each other out of the pit.

Our Last Day in San Marcos, TX

Group photo at an art festival.
Our team at the art festival

I have enjoyed an incredible three days at Texas State University at ORPL participating in the analysis of the skeletal remains that were recovered by the UIndy team in January, May 2013 or June 2014.  I learned an incredible amount in the process and I feel so far beyond grateful to be here.  After analyzing 9 cases (our goal was 6), today was our rest day before we travel to Rio Grande City tomorrow.  We left the hotel at 9am to go to Gil’s Broiler for Manske rolls.  We realized before we left that Gil’s didn’t open until 11am though, so we ran a few errands before going for breakfast.  A few of us needed a couple of odds and ends to survive the rest of the trip, so we stopped at CVS to pick up a few things.  We were on the hunt for a cooling towel, which will be essential when we are in Rio Grande City performing exhumations.  It is supposed to be around 100 degrees each day we are in the field, only allowing each of us to work about 4 minutes before we have to take an 8 minute hydration and cooling break.  During this time, a cooling towel will help tremendously to cool us down.  One of our team members forgot her cooling towel in Indiana, so we did some hunting around San Marcos to find one.

After CVS, we went to Lowe’s to pick up tarps to keep our van clean after our field days next week.  We want to preserve the beautiful brand new van as much as we possibly can, so we decided tarps were completely necessary.  After Lowe’s, we went to Academy, a sporting goods store, to find the cooling towel.  We were successful and what a cool store that was!  After that, it was nearing 11am so we headed for Gil’s to get our Manske rolls.  When we got there, there were a couple of people waiting outside.

Manske rolls bakery.

The doors finally opened a little after 11 and we were so excited.  We ordered our Manske rolls at the counter, a few of us adding half of a Hershey’s bar to our rolls, and then we found a table to wait.  After getting our rolls, it was very difficult not to scarf them down because they were so delicious.

A Manske roll.

After our breakfast, we traveled a short way past Texas State University, a beautiful campus, to an art show we were invited to by Kate Spradley.  It was located at the Eye of the Dog Art Center and was a pottery show.  The pottery on display was so beautiful.  We really enjoyed seeing it all.  We spoke with one artist who informed us that they have three art shows a year and this was their biggest one.  It was so neat to see all of the different ways clay can be used to make beautiful pieces of art.

After the art show, we went back to the hotel to relax and do laundry before dinner.  We left at 6pm for a restaurant called “54th Street”, which turned out to be extremely busy because of a prom being held nearby.  It was a lot of fun to see the prom dresses as we were waiting for our table.  We waited for about an hour before our table was ready.  The food was fantastic, and thus the wait was well worth it.

Tomorrow morning we are leaving for Rio Grande City at around 10am.  It will take us about 6 hours to get there.  I am so excited for this next leg of our journey in Texas.  I have had an amazing experience here thus far, and I very much look forward to being able to learn so much more about this process, as well as observe a different culture.  I am so glad that the University of Indianapolis offers experiences such as this one, and I am so thankful for Dr. Latham and the wealth of knowledge she is able to share.  I have learned so much from this experience already, and I am looking forward to learning a lot more.