WHILE studying for 3 weeks at college in North Carolina over the summer in July, the sweltering heat was not the only thing on my mind. Coming from the alternating sunny or grey, wet Southern English summer after my iGCSE exams, it occurred to me I had signed up for a course I knew nothing about. What I didn’t realise, as I boarded my plane alone to travel a few thousand miles away from my family, was that it would probably change the course of my university career.

My professor of Anthropology was a charming and sharp witted woman who greeted us everyday with her handful of handouts and a quick welcome. In the haze of my jet-lag and the jarring change from outside humidity to a curtain of freezing air conditioning inside, a luxury we grin and bare against in the UK if it even gets that hot, I failed to calculate quite what I was doing and taking my seat right at the front next to the teacher’s computer.

If I fast-forward through the course overview and the infamous Davidson College Honour Code (a really amazing principle I might add) we were handed, amongst other things, “Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist” by Dr. William R. Maples and Michael Browning – an awkwardly sized (I was reliably informedcontent America doesn’t measure their paper in A4 or A5 for example. An incredibly vexing conversation, or argument, followed) book that nevertheless sparked my curiosity. I flicked the the contents and read the somewhat cryptic chapter headings and a few caught my eye, particularly the ones titled “Death in 10,000 Fragments”, “The Misplaced Conquistador” and “The Tsar of all Russians”. What drew me to these headings was both childish glee, especially the word ‘misplaced’ which had a certain adventurous gleam to it, and my keen interest in history, specifically because I knew Russian history was to become my coursework for History A-level.

Before we left the classroom I had already given in to temptation and flicked through to the pictures in the middle. Rows upon rows of skeletons, X-rays, mangled skulls, and the intriguing skeleton of the “Elephant Man” – a Joseph Merrick who suffered from a combination of neurofibromatosis type I and Proteus syndrome who lived from 1862 to 1890.

As we found out later on in the course, “Death in 10,000 Fragments” told the story of the suspicious murder of Page Jennings by Clyde Earl Meek and their subsequent commingling (hence “Death in 10,000 Fragments as Dr. Maples had to try and separate the remains and help with the lack of knowledge surrounding Page Jennings’ actual murder – I will not reveal the outcome). The “Misplaced Conquistador” was a humorous chapter on the remains of Francisco Pizarro and whether it is actually his body on display.

Finally, “The Tsar of all Russians” was by far the best chapter for me, it explained how Dr. Maples pieced together the bodies of the last Tsar’s family after their brutal murder to try and solve the mystery of the disappearance of the Tsar’s children, Anastasia and Alexi. The writing kept our entire class in suspense until his final word on the matter, thankfully ending on a light note as his findings and conclusions come to light after the gripping case, but I took from it the promise that the Tsar is now safely buried in St. Petersburg.

The crash course on Forensic Anthropology I got from both the book and the 3 weeks I had there opened my eyes to this new subject. Where I had always been interested in Archaeology from a young age, Anthropology was a totally new word to me, despite the fact that I had always been interested in its concepts. Since then I have decided that I want to do Archaeology and Anthropology at university which I will begin to apply for next year with the interviews being this time next year (uh oh) but the entire thought process behind my blog is to inspire others in this subject.

For reference:

  1. the study of humankind, in particular:
    • the comparative study of human societies and cultures and their development.
      noun: cultural anthropology; noun: social anthropology
    • the science of human zoology, evolution, and ecology.
      noun: physical anthropology; plural noun: physical anthropologies