It is amazing the difference a year makes. At the 2012 annual meeting, I was worrying about finishing my thesis, getting into a doctoral program, and presenting a poster for the first time. This year, I am happily ensconced at the University of Arkansas; I finished my thesis and am almost ready to submit my first manuscript from it; and I have not presented the research in my thesis numerous times. All of these differences changed the way I approached the meeting. This year, I focused more on what was happening within the soon to be Anthropology section (as opposed to Physical Anthropology section). Interestingly, the presentations I attended started by focusing on the past.
One of the first presentations I attended was a retrospective on Dr. Richard Jantz’s contributions to the Forensic Databank. Kate Spradley presentation was at times humorous, at times serious, but overall brought home the importance of the forensic databank to the discipline of forensic anthropology, and the work that Richard Jantz put into the databank was paramount to its success. Additionally, Spradley included a number of pictures from the “old days” and short anecdotes about the humble beginnings of the forensic databank.
After Spradley’s presentation, I attended a presentation of FOROST, a free database for skeletal trauma. FOROST seeks to create a database of high resolution imagery that is accessible and searchable throughout the world. However, the creators recognized that researchers can be quite possessive of their images, so they established a way to give credit to the researchers rather than the database itself. Instead of citing the database, if someone uses the image, they cite the original contributor first. This has encouraged additional universities to contribute their images to the database. The creators hope to provide a way for forensic anthropologists to compare trauma and pathologies across the globe.
Next on my list of presentations was wood chipper trauma. Wood chippers have been used in a number of cases as a body disposal method. Since they are relatively inexpensive to rent and easy to use, it is necessary to investigate what kind of trauma will be present on the bones if a wood chipper is used. The presenter, Domenick, found that 55% of the bone fragments were of the larger size, although these were still smaller than 12 mm. Also, the wood chipper left unique striations on the bones that can then be matched back to the machine. Finally, although the bones were smaller than 12 mm when the body was put through the wood chipper, the soft tissue was relatively intact. The presenter hypothesized that frozen bodies may be dismembered more thoroughly than unfrozen since the wood chipper cuts harder surfaces more thoroughly than softer ones.
On Friday, I focused on my own research. I was presenting my master’s research during the Physical Anthropology Poster Session. I love poster sessions because it gives me a chance to actually discuss research instead of just presenting it. I love the dialogues posters frequently start. For example, I had a fascinating discussion with another graduate student researching decomposition underwater, and I was lucky enough to meet several prominent people in my field, including one who used to be a TA for one of my current professors. It is amazing how small the world can be! If you would like to see a copy of the poster I presented, I have it posted here.
These four presentations demonstrate the breadth of the section as a whole. By removing the ‘Physical’ part from the section name, the section can begin to encompass the many facets of the discipline itself. As someone whose research usually fell on the outskirts of physical anthropology, such as forensic archaeology and geophysical methods, it is nice that future presenters will not have to finagle a way to equate the research to physical anthropology specifically.
Overall, AAFS 2013 was a successful conference! I hope I will be able to continue to attend in the upcoming years!