The Bone Detective

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If you are a fan of the television shows Bones, you are probably aware of the fascinating process of identifying people through skeletal remains – or, at least, the fictional process. Bones takes leaps and bounds with its technology, and sometimes science, which helps the forensics team solve mysteries in a matter of 60 minutes. What you might not know is that real-life forensic anthropology is just as fascinating as the fictional version – even without the shiny, speedy technology. 

Forensic anthropologist Diance France holds a plastic mold of her own skull.If you do not believe us, then watch the video below. The speaker, Diane France, is a forensic anthropologist. She frequently travels the world to lecture on her work, which has involved some very famous individuals. (Do the names Romanov and Anastasia mean anything to you?) France is a great science communicator and her lectures are riveting. In fact, last year, she spoke at the National Academy of Sciences tent at the USA Science & Engineering Festival to a very full audience with people even sitting on the ground! 

France even gets kids excited about forensic anthropology with an experiment involving the examination of fried chicken bones. “I take the soft tissue off and start looking for the ‘skeletal clues.’ I look for the identity of the individual and the circumstances of the death,” she explained. Kids in the audience do the same, removing the meat off the chicken and then examining the remaining bones.

In the video below, filmed during her lecture for Distinctive Voices @ The Beckman Center, France abandons her famous forensic cases to talk about another victim. “In my opinion, this person is just as important in forensic anthropology as the Romanovs,” she stated. France weaves an intriguing tale of the body’s remains, while explaining what a forensic anthropologist does and how he or she does it. She reviews the determinations of causes of death, the sex of the victim, and facial reconstruction. She also proves that the story of an average individual’s death is no less captivating than Russian royalty, especially when the examination takes an interesting turn at the end – one that could affect the prosecution’s case against the accused murderers. It sounds like an episode of Law & Order or CSI, doesn’t it? Though, for France, it’s her life’s work.

Watch the video here.

The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.