Thursday, August 12, 2010


Just a JPAC update. A team is on the Tarawa Atoll in the South Pacific looking for remains of WWII marines.

The CNN article has the mandatory Indiana Jones reference, which pops up whenever anyone talks about archaeology in the media. FYI CNN, while I love Indiana just as much as the next person, he was an old school archaeologist (read: treasure hunter). This kind of behavior is not exactly what we are taught in schools, in fact my professor would probably frown on me accidentally blowing up sites, causing cave ins, and giant rock balls to crush important ceremonial rooms.

Military looks for WWII dead in South Pacific

By Ted Rowlands, CNN
August 12, 2010 8:29 p.m. EDT
Gregory Fox, bottom, helps dig for human remains on Tarawa, where U.S. and Japanese troops fought in 1943.
Gregory Fox, bottom, helps dig for human remains on Tarawa, where U.S. and Japanese troops fought in 1943.
  • As many as 450 U.S. Marines may be buried on Tarawa atoll
  • A joint civilian-military team hopes to find, return their remains
  • More than 1,000 U.S. men died in the November 20, 1943, battle
  • If remains are found, specialists will match them to troops missing in action

Betio, Tarawa Atoll (CNN) -- Archaeologist Gregory Fox is the U.S. military's version of Indiana Jones, but looks more like Jerry Garcia than Harrison Ford.

Fox travels the world digging for his version of treasure -- the remains of missing U.S. service personnel who died in battle.

"One month you're freezing your butt off on a mountain worried about altitude sickness, then you're somewhere wishing you had air conditioning," Fox says, shovel in hand, next to a fresh hole he and a team of Marines are digging in the South Pacific.

"It's basically a promise by the U.S. government that they will do everything in their power to bring their fallen warriors home, and that's the way we roll."

Fox is part of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, or JPAC, a unique team of nearly 400 civilian and military personnel. The unit is two-thirds military and one-third civilian, with each branch of the military represented. While search teams comb the world for remains, specialists back at JPAC headquarters in Honolulu, Hawaii, make matches between bones and soldiers listed as missing in action.

"It's basically CSI, but much slower," Fox says. "We can't make a match in 45 minutes."

Tarawa, a South Pacific atoll, was the site of one the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history. Starting on the morning of November 20, 1943, more than 1,000 American men were killed in roughly 72 hours of fighting with the Japanese. Hundreds of Marines were gunned down in the water trying to make it to shore.

Tarawa was before Iwo Jima. For Marines, the battle is both a source of pride and a lesson learned. The high casualties were blamed in part to poor planning. The attack was launched during low tide, which left a lot of the landing craft stuck on coral.

The Japanese were sitting in fortified bunkers along the shoreline, shooting Marines at close range as they attempted to make it to the beach. In the end, the Marines took the beach and won the battle. An estimated 4,000 Japanese soldiers died in the fighting, over what was considered at the time a strategic airstrip in the Pacific.

Alexander "Sandy" Bonnyman was posthumously awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroics at Tarawa.

"I spent my childhood idolizing him, even though he died 18 years before I was born," says his grandson, Clay Bonnyman Evans. Evans made the long trip from his home in Boulder, Colorado, to Tarawa to be here while JPAC is digging for remains.

He retraced his grandfather's steps at Tarawa, wading through the water onshore, then climbing to the top of a bunker referred to as "Bonnyman's Bunker."

Now overgrown and filled with trash, the bunker was a Japanese stronghold during the battle. Bonnyman, according to his fellow Marines, led a charge to the top of the bunker, flushing out more than 100 Japanese soldiers that had been killing Marines on the beach.

"Frankly, most of my life I knew a lot of the story, and I know a lot more now," Evans says from the bunker where his grandfather was ultimately killed.

After the battle, Bonnyman and the other Marines who died were originally buried in several areas around Tarawa. But there were so many bodies, including the thousands of Japanese soldiers, that the U.S. Navy eventually bulldozed the site. After the war, the U.S. government returned to retrieve the bodies, but couldn't find them all.

It's estimated that as many as 450 Marines remain buried on Tarawa. Over the years, several bodies have been unearthed by construction workers and others. On Wednesday, local officials handed over a set of remains to the JPAC team in a ceremony conducted by Marine Capt. Todd Nordman.

Nordman says he volunteered for this mission because of the Marine Corps history here. While JPAC may be made up of all branches of the military, for this mission it's almost all Marines. "Tarawa holds a soft spot in Marine Corps hearts, so it's important that we bring a large contingency from the Marine Corps," he says.

The mission calls for JPAC to dig at six sites, which if the research is correct, could yield more than 100 missing Marines. Finding where to dig took years of research, and several trips to Tarawa with ground-penetrating radar. That work was done by the nonprofit group History Flight and its founder Mark Noah, who has dedicated most of his life over recent years trying to bring the Marines of Tarawa home.

"It's our mission to affect a positive solution to the mystery of what happened to the lost graves of Tarawa," says Noah.

JPAC is using his research as a playbook for the mission. "it was a great first step," says Fox.

The current JPAC mission scheduled to last more than a month. If a mass grave is found, more archaeologists are on standby in Hawaii to come help Fox.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


I don't know if I've talked about JPAC before - it's a military operation (but includes civilian researchers) located at Hickam AFB in Hawaii. Its mission is to recover and identify missing service members and return them to their families. And part of the tools they use is the largest forensic anthropological lab in the world. If you are a biological anthropologist (or archaeologist) with a bend towards forensics, JPAC has several opportunities to join their team including internships, full employment, and a semester long 'college' where they teach you all that they do (taking DNA from bone, identifying human bone, etc.) and then send you out on a mission to Laos or Vietnam. To check out these opportunities, click on this link ORAU. Civilian jobs are posted through USAjobs, but the internships are done through Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU).

I actually have some pretty strong feelings about JPAC, not the least of which is that I really want to work there at some point in the near future. It's an amazing organization that demonstrates that not only are people not forgotten, they are actively being looked for. The newest missions started in late July/early August and will take place in Papua New Guinea investigating possible WWII airplane crash sites. Below is the full press release:

Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command

Public Affairs Office
(808) 448-1934
Contact: Elizabeth C. Feeney
Aug. 5, 2010
Release # 10-10


JPAC teams search for World War II aircraft crash sites

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii (Aug. 5, 2010) – Two archeological recovery teams and one investigation team from the U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) departed Hawaii recently for missions in the Independent State of Papua New Guinea.

The more than 35-person joint field activity will be in-country for approximately 45 days to investigate and excavate several aircraft crash sites. Two recovery teams will search in the Madang and Morobe provinces at sites that are associated with the losses of more than 21 Americans missing from World War II. The investigation team will validate the authenticity of leads by conducting interviews, research, and field work in the Central and Northern provinces for 16 aircraft losses and more than 50 Americans still listed as missing in action.

Falling directly under the U.S. Department of Defense, the jointly-manned organization of more than 400 military and civilian specialists has investigated and recovered missing Americans since the 1970’s. To date there are approximately 74,190 unaccounted-for Americans from World War II.

The ultimate goal of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, and of the agencies involved in returning America’s heroes home, is to achieve the fullest possible accounting of Americans lost during the nation’s past conflicts.

"Until They Are Home"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I'm not a big Bond film fan, although who doesn't love Sean Connery? But I've been wasting precious time you-tubing as a way to escape the anxiety of all the things I have to do in a small amount of time. I know, it's a vicious, vicious cycle. Here's one that's old, but still makes me giggle.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

And now, Sex in 3D

In a previous post I discussed the importance of accurate sex determination techniques when identifying human remains, specifically I went on and on about my love for metric analysis, which I think provides an anthropologist with a more confidant finding. New and really interesting research at my university lends support to my metric love.

(I've copied the article here, but you can click on this link and visit the original page which has some more info to go with the pictures)

Hips don't lie: Researchers find more accurate technique to determine sex of skeletal remains

IMAGE: The new technique could also have significant benefits in the courtroom. Obviously the improved accuracy is important, but so is the fact that the method relies on quantifiable metric data...

Click here for more information.

Research from North Carolina State University offers a new means of determining the sex of skeletal human remains – an advance that may have significant impacts in the wake of disasters, the studying of ancient remains and the criminal justice system.

Historically, forensic scientists have been able to determine the sex of skeletal remains by visually evaluating the size and shape of the pelvis, or os coxa. "This technique is accurate, but is not without its limitations," says Dr. Ann Ross, associate professor of sociology and anthropology at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the research.

"For example," Ross says, "when faced with fragmentary remains of the os coxa, it can be difficult to determine the deceased person's sex based solely on visual inspection. This can be a significant challenge when evaluating remains from disasters – such as plane crashes – or degraded remains in mass burials – whether the burials date from prehistory or 20th century political violence."

But Ross and her colleague Dr. Joan Bytheway have now used three-dimensional imaging technology to effectively quantify the specific characteristics of the os coxa that differentiate males from females. Bytheway is an assistant professor of forensic science at Sam Houston State University.

The researchers found more than 20 anatomical "landmarks" on the os coxa that can be used to determine a body's sex. Finding so many landmarks is important, Ross says, because it means that the sex of a body can be ascertained even if only a small fragment of the pelvis can be found. In other words, even if only 15 percent of the pelvis is recovered, it is likely that at least a few of the landmarks can be found on that fragment.

IMAGE: The new technique for determining the sex of skeletal human remains based on examination of the pelvic bones is significantly more accurate than traditional visual inspections.

Click here for more information.

Here's how it would work: a forensic scientist would use a digitizer to create a 3-D map of the pelvic fragment and measure the relevant anatomical landmarks. The scientist could then determine the sex of the remains by comparing those measurements to the measurements listed in the paper by Bytheway and Ross.

"This technique also has the benefit of being significantly more accurate than traditional visual inspections," Ross says. While determining sex based on visual inspections of os coxa have an accuracy rate of approximately 90 percent, the new technique from Ross and Bytheway has an accuracy rate of 98 percent or better. The researchers found, for example, that several anatomical landmarks commonly used in visual inspection to estimate sex are actually very poor indicators of sex.

The new technique could also have significant benefits in the courtroom. Obviously the improved accuracy is important, but so is the fact that the method relies on quantifiable metric data – not an opinion. This is an important distinction under the federal rules of evidence that govern what evidence can be submitted in criminal court.

The researchers are planning to incorporate their findings into the National Institute of Justice's 3D-ID program. The 3D-ID program consists of software that allows forensic scientists to plug in data on skeletal remains and determine the sex and ancestral origin of those remains.


The research, "A Geometric Morphometric Approach to Sex Determination of the Human Adult Os Coxa," is published in the July issue of Journal of Forensic Sciences.

Monday, July 12, 2010

New York apartment ideas

Now for today's Good idea/Bad idea:

Apartment in New York: newly re-modeled, loft style, with (!) a washer/dryer in a price range I can afford. Located beside a bar.

Could be awesome or ridiculously awful. Hard to know which when I'm roughly 500 miles away.

At least there would be a wealth of people around.

On the other hand, they most likely will be intoxicated.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Movie Critics Corner Take 3; or Things that have nothing to do with anthropology

I was really excited about this movie, it looked inspiring and uplifting and had two actors that I really enjoy, Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. Damon is incredibly attractive in this film, so just like rate your, it gets bonus points for hotness level. I can't help being a girl.


In general, the movie was really good. The message was inspiring, especially since it was based on real events. But something was missing for me and I still haven't figured out what exactly it was or if it's more me than the movie.

Accents: The South African accents that were used were really interesting (I love hearing
accents) and made the setting believable, but I had a hard time understanding people sometimes. So this issue is likely my problem more than the movie's.

Morgan Freeman: no complaints - He made an excellent Nelson Mandela and brought a lot of realism to the role. I do wish they had fleshed out his relationship with his family more since it was portrayed as troubled and that is something I hav
e never known when reading about him. But overall, excellent.

Time Period: I liked how you see a lot of the overall racial issues going on in South Africa at the time through the prism of Mandela's bi-racial security team. These guys don't trust each other at all and I think the first line that the head dude says to the white security detail when they first enter the room sums it all up, "Are you here to arrest us?" Because that had been a regular occurrence.

I do wish we could have had a little more history. We know Mandela was imprisoned and that it was unfair, but as Americans (and my generation especially) we don't have a great understanding of what exactly happened. We start the film with Mandela being released from prison and people say things and news reports mention that black South Africans can now vote (and that was 1994!), but I would have liked to have seen flashbacks to understand what it was previously like, political arrests/societal oppression, etc. And maybe see why it suddenly changed (was it more international or internal pressure?). Clint Eastwood, show me, don't tell me!

I think what I really wanted was an explanation for why white South Africans felt that the previous apartheid government was ok. Why they felt that they were actually superior and could just say racist comments out loud and think nothing of it. But questions concerning government/societal indoctrination of racist norms is not, I guess, really a part of a movie that shows how a man tried to move people past those issues. Much like the South Africans in the movie, we the audience are pushed to focus on the future. It makes sense, but I'm left wanting more context.

Rugby: I'm not sure if the movie needed more rugby or more structure to let the audience know what was going on. I know a littl
e about rugby and have watched a few games (world cup a few years ago: biggest Frenchmen I have ever seen, wiped the floor with my poor Irish kin), and this movie reminded me that for such a brutal sport, rugby is surprisingly boring. I don't know why. Huge guys dragging each other up and down a field should be interesting, but it's not and I think the problem is the scrum. And that's what the issue was in the movie.

Much like real life, there's a lot of scrum and not a whole lot of running (except for the Maori guy in the New Zealand match, he kicked ass). So you have a lot of camera shots of the scrum, where all the action is taking place. And to catch this exciting time, we are in the middle of it, watching from below as these guys heave and ho against each other for field and ball advantage.

The problem is that it's not exciting, I'm not on the edge of my seat wondering if the little guy who's name I can't remember is going to get the ball or get trampled. And if you aren't watching the screen, it sounds kind of like a bad porn or a day at Gold's gym, i.e. a lot of

I'll be honest, this is probably me. I just may be scrumophobic. And I don't know how to improve these scenes, although a more intense instrumental music sequence might have helped. I'm thinking battle scenes from Braveheart or Gladiator, something heavy on ethnic/tribal drums, maybe a bodran. But I didn't feel the intensity of the game and I needed to since it was as much a main character as Nelson Mandela or Pienaar.

So, it was good and inspiring, but I wish I felt it a bit more. And I wish I had waited for it to come out on Netflix.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Best graduation gift ever!

Anthro kids give the best presents!