Can you dig it? Forensic anthropology camp proves to be fun & educational

By Chandler Holland
Times-News correspondent 

Caption Campers participate in a dig at the Forensic Anthropology Camp at Appalachian State University in Boone. Chandler Holland / Times-News correspondent

BOONE — In mid-July, 38 teenagers checked into a dorm on the Appalachian State University campus, ready to embark on a new adventure. The school’s Anthropology department holds a Forensic Anthropology camp, and this year I had the pleasure of being able to participate as a camper.
The camp is aimed at high school students, 15 to 18 year olds, and attracts campers from far and wide, but you’ll need a letter of recommendation from one of your science teachers to apply. Registration opens January 1, and the price rises the longer you wait. The camp fills quickly, and there is always a waiting list, so registering early is not only a cost saver, but ensures that you get in the door.
Plan to bring sturdy shoes, work gloves, a good-size spiral notebook, several pencils, and a folder to keep handouts and your research notes organized. The camp offers a thorough introduction to Forensic Anthropology, and you get hands-on experience with real human skeletons, as well as casts of both human and animal bones.
In the brand new Anthropology department lab, you learn the role of a forensic anthropologist. Initial sessions focus on how to identify an individual’s characteristics to figure out clues to much of their life’s story, working solely from their skeleton. You’ll be given your own “case” to figure out when, on the third day, the camp splits into six teams. Each team is given a real human skeleton to study and analyze.
   Using the knowledge you learn through the week, you and your team will have to figure out the individual’s age, stature (height), gender, ancestry, the pathology and trauma that happened to them during their lifetime, what damage to the skeleton happened either before or after death, as well as the possible cause of death. Then, once you have made your final hypothesis, you present your group’s findings to the rest of the camp, after which the true story is revealed.
You will also get to work on a staged dig on the App State campus. Casts of human skeletons were buried by Dr. Gwen M. Robbins Schug’s students months to years prior to camp to resemble a real grave scenario. Dr. Schug is the camp’s professor.
You must remember to sift through all the dug soil to find evidence, as you may be surprised by what you discover. Unlike a skeleton on a real dig, you don’t have to worry about losing any metacarpals or phalanges. On our digs, the small bones of the hands and feet were already wired together.
The camp is advertised for those who “have a background in science,” and while that’s true, I would suggest brushing up on your anatomical vocabulary before going to the camp. The concepts aren’t hard to grasp, but the terminology can get a bit thick.
App State’s forensic anthropology camp was a great place to make new friends with like-minded people. As my new friend, Tyler Baker, said, “It was educational, life-changing, and fun.”

Chandler Holland is a rising senior home-schooler and a Teens & 20s writer. She was lead intern at C’est si bon! Cooking School, and co-teaches the Kitchen Capers kid’s cooking classes at Alamance Arts.



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