Northern Michigan University is moving forward with plans to develop a new academic program in forensic anthropology, the science of analyzing human remains to determine an individual’s identity and the timing and manner of death. NMU’s program will include a secured outdoor research station that would be the eighth worldwide and the first cold-weather facility.
Relatively little information exists on the effects of freezing and thawing on human decomposition. NMU students and faculty will conduct this pioneering research in varying conditions and scenarios, creating the baseline data so critical to the quickly advancing field of forensic anthropology. The facility also has the potential to enhance the regional economy by offering specialized training and research opportunities for law enforcement, government agencies, military personnel and visiting scientists.
“We have not finalized a location for the research station, but several properties have been considered based on topography, access and other criteria,” said NMU Provost Kerri Schuiling. “Some are owned by NMU and some are not. Due diligence will be exercised to ensure we are not impacting archeologic sites and that it is compatible with adjacent land uses."
A public forum on NMU's related academic plans will be held from 3-5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6, in 2904 West Science. It will feature Dr. Joyce DeJong, director and professor for pathology at Western Michigan University Stryker School of Medicine. DeJong also serves as the regional medical examiner for five southwest Michigan counties and as president of the Michigan Medical Examiners Association. Four additional professionals with forensic expertise will also participate.
“Based on the enormous public interest in forensic research and crime scene investigation, we expect enrollment to increase with students coming to Northern for courses that revolve around this multidisciplinary program,” said Alan McEvoy, head of the NMU Sociology and Anthropology Department.
Members of NMU’s forensic anthropology steering committee went on fact-finding visits to four other anthropology research facilities nationwide, including the first established facility in Knoxville, Tenn. NMU’s proposed program will include a laboratory and curated osteological collection.
“The skeletal remains will be kept in a museum-type setting that is climate-controlled, safe and secure,” said Scott Demel, associate professor and former head of anthropology collections management at Chicago’s Field Museum. “Bones offer many helpful clues about the deceased. They can be analyzed to determine gender, age, occupation, pathologies and evidence of trauma or other cause of death.”
The Sept. 6 forum will feature a brief presentation followed by a question-and-answer period.