PSU Student Takes First Step Toward Career in Forensic Anthropology

April 14th, 2004 by Adam

by Sabrina Blanco ’04

Walking into the morgue, Terri Crawford tries to remain calm and collected, but she can’t ignore the body bag that sits just a few feet away from her. Crawford, a student at Plymouth State University, is an aspiring forensic anthropologist who is completing her internship with State Medical Examiner Jennie Duval.

Crawford visits Concord Hospital on a weekly basis to witness autopsies and to consult with the medical examiner.

“This is a very critical step in her education,” says Professor David Starbuck (anthropology). “She needs to be able to witness autopsies and learn from them without feeling the aversion to death that really is very natural for all of us. This project is sort of the critical ‘first step’ toward developing a career in forensic anthropology.” Crawford says, “While the thought of conducting autopsies seems frightening, it is really a great service to families.”

Crawford started another project this year, when she purchased a 125-pound deceased pig and placed it above ground at a local site to watch it decompose. “I visit the site every day to record changes in the soil, the pig and its surrounding,” says Crawford. “I chose a pig because the organs are very similar to those in a human. The study will help me identify the signs of aging and the stages involved in decomposition.”

Starbuck says, “The experiment is similar to the famous ‘Body Farm’ at the University of Tennessee. Terri’s research may help establish whether pigs and humans really do decompose the same way.”

Plymouth State University students, like Crawford, participate in experiential projects by conducting their own research and experiments. For more information on this project, contact Professor David Starbuck by phone at 603-535-3076.