Your bones have a story to tell. Your skeleton, teeth, and hair can tell us how you lived, and even help solve mysteries about how an individual died. Forensic Anthropologists can even use their research and expertise to determine where a person was born from the remains left behind after they die.
“Being able to track an individual’s life through their hard tissues, such as their skeleton or teeth can help us build a profile,” said Dr. Juarez, “That profile can then help track how an individual lived and also help us find out how they died.”
Dr. Chelsey Juarez, a Forensic Anthropology professor at Fresno State explained the food that a woman eats while pregnant impacts the enamel in the baby’s developing molars in utero, creating a lasting clue to where a person is born. The local food the mother eats has certain elements that are only found in specific regions. Forensic anthropologists can track those elements found in the tooth enamel to the soil of specific regions and use that data to determine a place of birth.
Forensic Anthropology, as Dr. Juarez explains, is the study of human remains such as bones, teeth, fingernails, and hair that is produced for a medical or legal context. A forensic anthropologist can assist a medical examiner to help identify an individual or to understand the circumstances surrounding a death and figure out the postmortem interval––the “time since death.”
Dr. Juarez believes this work is important because specialists in the field assist law enforcement and medical examiners in identifying individuals, assist in providing resolutions for violent deaths and help give closure to families. Often times a forensic anthropologist will testify as an expert witness in court for a deceased individual to help provide justice for them.
This Spring semester Dr. Juarez will have six interns in the forensics lab learning the inner workings of being a forensic anthropologist. She plans to establish a caseload here at Fresno State, bringing forensic anthropology cases to campus and working on those cases with her student interns.
“I want my students to understand all standard operating procedures of how to go about analyzing a case and maintaining a lab,” said Dr. Juarez, “I want to teach them how to asses whatever is being asked of us by medical examiners and how to write reports and produce the paperwork.”
Dr. Juarez thinks that the interest in Forensic Anthropology comes from a “CSI effect,” where individuals have seen shows such as Bones or CSI and like the puzzle aspect of the field. She explains that being a medical examiner is about solving a really important puzzle and getting to see those puzzles unfold on television is really fascinating.
Bones is a television show that is based on the “Temperance Brennan” novels by forensic scientist and archaeologist Kathy Reichs. Each episode focuses on FBI cases with a mystery behind human remains. While Bones may have a strong fan base, Dr. Juarez says that she has only seen the show once. However, she says that a lot of the topics she saw were real, perhaps due to Reich’s work in forensic anthropology. Dr. Juarez believes the wide popularity of Bones opened up this field of work to more individuals.
“Bones can be a pathway, especially for women or students of color, to science,” said Dr. Juarez, “it puts organic chemistry, algebra and physics in a small package that is appealing to anyone, and once they see that they can do it, the interest starts.”
Want to learn more about how forensic anthropology can track how a person lived or died? Join the College of Social Sciences and Dr. Chelsey Juarez for “The Stories in the Bones” on Thursday, January 31st at 6 p.m. in the Alice Peters Auditorium.