Friday, May 7, 2010

Forensic Science at Susquehanna High School

Students screening and excavating 36Da235

This week staff from the Section of Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, part of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, assisted with a simulated archaeology excavation. Ms. Evans, a teacher at Susquehanna Township High School, Harrisburg, is teaching a lesson on Forensic Anthropology in her three Forensic Science classes.

The 100 square meter excavation site is an open, dirt covered, area outside the high school building. Prior to the arrival of students the area is “seeded” by Ms. Evans with artifacts which would indicate a crime scene. The planted or “seeded” artifacts included deer bone, car parts and various personal effects. Students were unaware of where these artifacts were buried and it was their task to excavate the evidence. This was an opportunity to expose students to proper archaeological excavation methods and the process of recording evidence from a crime scene.

MaryPat Evans instructing students on proper excavation technique

The skeletal remains were placed in the site with related “artifacts”, that when uncovered and mapped, will “tell the story” of what happened in the deaths of two deer. Forensics students used archaeological techniques, methods and theory in their investigation into the deaths of the two deer. The deer skeletal remains are being “recycled” from the classes’ labs on Forensic Entomology at the high school and were donated by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Approximately 100 high school 11th and 12th grade students worked at the death scene under the supervision of Ms. Evans and staff archaeologists. Forensic Science students first set up a measurement grid for the excavation. Archaeologists record their findings based on the location of artifacts within defined units. Students then walked across the surface of the site identifying the location of bones and related artifacts (potential evidence) which could be observed on the surface. Students then mapped these surface artifacts, carefully measuring and recording their location. The goal of this activity was to decide the best locations to excavate. Based on this surface collection strategy, student teams picked the square meter of the excavation in which they wanted to search for more evidence. They returned on Friday with trowel in hand to uncover the bones buried in the ground.

On the second day of the investigation, the Forensics Science students worked in teams to excavate a single unit at the site. Under the supervision of State Museum archaeologists, the investigators mapped, bagged and labeled the artifacts found on the surface of their unit. Units are 1 square meter areas on the 100 square meter site. The units have been named using an alphanumeric system. Once the surface artifacts were removed, the investigators used trowels, brushes and dust pans to remove the soil. After uncovering the buried artifacts, investigators were instructed to map the location of the artifacts using tape measures and record this measurement on graph paper. Toward the end of the day, investigators observed a pattern starting to emerge that would "tell the story" of what happened at 36Da235.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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