Students in a new class offered by Pellissippi State Technical Community College will find themselves armed with shovels, “exhuming” mock graves. The course, Introduction to Forensic Anthropology, begins fall semester and will focus on osteology, the study of bones. Students will learn to create a biological profile of skeletal remains, as well as discover the basics of identifying trauma.
“They’ll learn a little about human decomposition and archaeological recovery,” said Pellissippi State instructor Jonathan Bethard, who is teaching the course. “I want to do a surface collection of bones that would mimic finding a skeleton in the woods and teach students how to excavate a clandestine grave.”
The class should help students decide if a hands-on career as a forensic anthropologist, working for an organization like the TBI, FBI, Department of Justice or Department of Defense or perhaps at a medical examiner’s office, is right for them.
Bethard received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in anthropology from the University of Tennessee and is set to earn his Ph.D. in anthropology in December. He brings to the course a wealth of experience with skeletal remains, in both modern and archaeological contexts.
This summer, for the fifth year running, Dr. Bethard will beworking in Peru, where ancient graves have been uncovered and hundreds of skeletons are being analyzed. Those analyses will help Bethard and his Peruvian colleagues learn more about what life was like in Peru before the conquest of the Spanish in 1532.
Bethard also has been working with UT in conducting human remains recovery training for the FBI.
“The purpose is to train agents in how to correctly process a crime scene where human remains are buried in clandestine graves,” he said.
“I believe my previous work with skeletal remains will be useful in teaching the new course, as I’ll be able to help students learn about the intricacies of the human skeleton. Oftentimes, bone fragments are very tiny and hard to recognize. However, after a semester in this course, students should have a working knowledge of osteology.”