THE SCIENCE AND ART OF READING BONES
On January 8, 2019 we welcome Forensic Anthropologist Dr. Heather Walsh Haney for a presentation titled “The Science and Art of Reading Bones.” Dr. Walsh-Haney is an Associate Professor at Florida Gulf Coast University who studied at the University of Florida under Dr. William Maples, a renowned forensic anthropologist. He created a remarkable forensic collection and, upon his death, his widow asked her to take over the collection. It is now housed at FGCU under her auspice. Dr. Walsh-Haney works closely with the local medical examiners in eleven jurisdictions and handles between 80-100 cases per year. Additionally, she teaches at the University of Tennessee National Forensic Academy’s surface scattered and buried body courses.
While she is a forensic anthropologist and also studies human remains from archaeological sites, she is in the Department of Justice Studies at FGCU and not in the Anthropology Department. It is within that Department that she has created the Buckingham Environmental Forensics Facility—an FGCU outdoor forensics facility that provides opportunities for research, education and training concerning clandestine graves. In addition, she has helped to coordinate Forensic Field for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and Florida’s Forensic Institute for Research, Security, and Tactics.
Her presentation will include a comparison of how forensic anthropology is portrayed in popular culture, through television series such as Bones, and that of actual scientists in the field. She will explain what happens to bodies when buried and when left on the ground and how they differ, and how new plant growth and intrusive plant growth are factors in locating a buried body. In other cases, the disturbed soil will subside over time and can leave the ground bare of plant growth. The soil color and density can be another clue to the location of buried remains. The art and science of forensic anthropology has come a long way and it is the science of it that will lead to identification of the body and aid in the identification or exoneration of the perpetrator.
Heather received her MA and PhD in Anthropology from the University of Florida where she trained within the C.A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory for over a decade. She is the consulting forensic anthropologist for 11 Florida Medical Examiner Districts and has been the principle investigator for over 1,500 forensic anthropology cases. As a member of the Department of Health and Human Services Disaster Mortuary Response Team (DMORT), she helped locate and/or identify human remains from Hurricanes Wilma and Katrina and assisted in the recovery of human remains at the World Trade Center following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Dr. Walsh-Haney’s knowledge of human skeletal biology arose from her work with ancient skeletal remains from archaeological settings including the sites of Bay West, Windover, Bird Island, and Gauthier to name a few. This research experience provided her and her graduate students with the opportunity to assist the Bureau of Archaeological Research and the Seminole Tribe of Florida with the Manasota Key Offshore Site recovery and preparation for repatriation processes for the last 2 years.