Forensic Anthropology

Daniella Alexandria Rodriguez, Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State

Internship Report: The Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State

I conducted my internship at the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University (FACTS). This report will describe FACTS, discuss my activities: labeling bones, skeletal inventory, dental inventory, photo inventory, and my calcaneus research, and my overall experience.


FACTS’s mission is to advance forensic science and anthropology through world-class education, research, and outreach. FACTS strives to be a premier nationally and internationally recognized academic training and research facility for forensic anthropology. FACTS provides a unique environment that stimulates innovative, creative, and interdisciplinary research that advances forensic anthropological knowledge, theory, and methods. (

FACTS is a hands-on forensic anthropological research, teaching, and outreach center within the Department of Anthropology at Texas State University. FACTS is composed of three components, that includes two indoor labs and an outdoor decomposition facility. The first lab, the Grady Early Forensic Anthropology Research Laboratory (GEFARL), opened in 2008 and was named after Dr. Grady Early, who is a generous donor to the program.  GEFARL is where all willed body donations are curated and kept for educational purposes. The lab also has a computed tomography scanner and a 3D printer, which graduate students use for research.  The second lab, the Osteological Research and Processing Laboratory (ORPL), opened in October of 2011, and is located on the grounds of Freeman Ranch. Donations are processed and labeled at ORPL. ORPL also has a multi-purpose classroom where FACTS faculty and staff provide workshops to the public. In addition to ORPL, the outdoor Forensic Anthropology Research Facility (FARF) is also located at Freeman Ranch. People are able to donate themselves or their deceased family members to FACTS through a willed-body donation program, where their bodies are placed at FARF to decompose and to record the rates of decay in Texas.


After the donations have been disarticulated and placed in a biohazard bag, they are sent to ORPL to start the process of maceration.  The donations then are placed in a large kettle that fills up with hot water and 4.0 oz of laundry detergent is used. Laundry detergent and hot water are used to make any soft tissue and cartilage to dissolve or fall off the bone. Tergazyme is used when donations are mummified or soft tissue is still intact to the bone. Tergazyme is a concentrated detergent with peptidase enzyme for manual and ultrasonic cleaning. Donations are left in the kettle to macerate from one hour to three days. It all depends how much soft tissue the donation has.

Once the donation is done macerating, undergraduate volunteer and interns clean the bones using toothbrushes, dental tools, medical scissors, tongs and Dawn soap. It is important to clean off the cartilage, because if it stays in the bone, it becomes greasy overtime. Once the cartilage is off, a clean toothbrush is used with clean water to remove any cartilage that is stuck.


One of the main duties of my internship is curating the donations, which occurs after the remains have been processed and sent to GEFARL. Curating consists of creating detailed inventories: skeletal, dental, missing bones, and photo.

For photo inventory, the remains must first be placed in anatomical position, as a living person standing on two feet, eyes and head forward, hands at the side with the palms turned outward. It is important to know how to site each bone and place it in a manner that looks neat. A black velvet tablecloth is placed on the table. The skull should be placed on top with a doughnut pillow in the bottom to avoid any damage. Any fragments or loose teeth and the mandible should be placed next to the skull. The scapulae should be placed next to the clavicles. The humeri should be placed underneath the scapula along with the ulna and radius. The ulna should be medial and radius should be lateral when positioning. Hands are always faced palmer and are set up by having the 1st metacarpal (thumb) a little out and having the second metacarpal (index), third metacarpal (middle), fourth metacarpal (ring finger), and fifth metacarpal (pinky) placed close together to look like a hand. In between the clavicles, the manubrium, sternal body, and all the vertebrae should be placed in anatomical order—cervical, thoracic, lumbar. The ribs should be placed in order from one to twelve and placed to the correlating side. The sacrum is placed in between both innominates, followed by the femur, patella, tibia, and fibula. It is important to have all the tarsals and metatarsals in order to look like feet and include any sesamoid close to hallux (big toe).

The next step is to describe the bones using a rating system that identifies how well the bones looks. If the bone were 75% complete it would be scored as a one. If the bone is 75% or less complete it would be scored as a one. If the bone were post mortem, meaning it was lost after death, it would be considered as a three.

The following step is to describe the teeth using a rating system that identifies the rate of the teeth. Most of the donations have their teeth in a separate bag, which makes it a little difficult to do the dental inventory. What I do is try to identify each tooth and place them in the back where it belongs. I also make a legend that includes if the donation has cavities, gold teeth, and any type of crowns.

Missing bone inventory and the data sheet has a picture of the skeleton, which gives an overall visual picture of which bones are missing. The last part of curation is taking a full photo of the donation. It’s required to be an aerial view; I get up a high ladder and take the picture of the complete skeletal. All of this data is used for students or educators that want to use the information, that is why it’s important to never make mistakes in the paperwork. All of theses inventories are done to keep records of the donations, making it easier for individuals to find what they need instead of them checking each donation box.


The next thing to do is edit the photo inventory pictures. The photo inventory pictures are edited using Photoshop CC to look professional incase any researchers or graduate students want to use the pictures. When editing photo inventory pictures, the first steps is to make the picture straight and crop anything that is not part of the skeleton. This includes cropping out the floor, chairs, and in some cases the ladder. The black velvet tablecloth collects bone dust, which may appear in pictures and that when I use black paint option in Photoshop CC to eliminate unwanted bone dust. The last step is adding the Texas State University logo to the corner of the picture. When placing the logo, it is important to place it in the same direction of the donation number.


It is very important to follow the standard operating procedures (SOPs) when labeling bones. When the donation processing is completed it is placed on the table to dry. Once the donation is fully dry it can then be labeled. Before each bone is labeled a thin layer of acryloid is applied. Once the acryloid is dried, then use a super thin marker to label the donation number. It is important to wait up to a day to let the pen dry before adding the second coat of acryloid. Each bone has its own specific place to labeled.  The hardest bones to label are the hands and feet because sometimes the bones are too tiny or have pathological conditions, which make them difficult to label. Most of the bones are labeled lateral with the exception of the: skull, carpals, hand and feet phalanges, ribs, sternal body, and manubrium. Do not label any articular surfaces (where two bones meet) because articular surfaces are important when looking at the bone individually. Labels are never to be placed on an area where age markers are located including the: pubic symphyseal face, auricular surface, suture lines of the skull, sternal rib ends or the acetabulum; or sex markers including the nuchal area, mastoid process, supra-orbital margin, supra-orbital ridge or mental eminence.


Brooks County, Texas, includes the Falfurrias checkpoint, which is one of the closest to the TexasMexico border. Brooks County receives the highest number of undocumented individuals in the Justice of Peace(JP) because Brooks County doesn’t have a medical examiner.

Texas Code of Criminal Procedures requires a forensic examination, collection of DNA samples, and submission of paperwork to an unidentified and missing persons database.  However, due to the high volume of deaths and lack of county resources, the local JP and Brooks County Sheriff’s Office were overwhelmed and began to bury the undocumented migrants, most without proper analyses or collection of DNA samples, leaving little chance that these individuals will ever be returned to their families.  In turn, families are left without knowing what has happened to their son, daughter, mother, father, brother or sister. (Department of Anthropology: Identifying Migrant Deaths in South Texas)

From the help of Texas State University, Baylor University, and University of Indianapolis graduate and undergraduate volunteers, there has been progress in identify these individuals.

One of the duties in Operation Identification (OPId) is documenting and taking pictures of the clothes or any belongings that are found with the individuals. Before taking the picture, you take notes in the inventory page describing the item. This includes color, brand, size, and any distinctive logos that could be used. Once done with the inventory, the items are then are placed on a black mat with a scale to show the size. Pictures are taken of back and front of the item; size, and brand should have their own pictures.


The largest tarsal bone of the foot is the calcaneus and it articulates with the talus to form the subtalar joint. There is an extensive variation between the number and arrangement of the facets at this joint (Burning & Barnet 1965, Gupta SC et al 1977, Camposs 7 Pellcio 1989, Verhagen FD 1993, SaadehFA et al 2000, Barbaix E et al 2000, Ragab A et al 2003, Priya R et al 2006, Madhyi C et al 2008, Mujde Vuygur et al 2009, Muthukumar Netal 2011, Mini Mol P et al 2012, Garg et al 2012, Garg et al 2012). Bruckner (1969) hypothesized that variations in the subtalar facets of calcanei are important because there’s

difference in joint mobility [as] expected between joints with different numbers of articular facets. In the three-facet arrangement, the talus sits on an architecturally stable articular tripod and contacts the calcaneum at three distinct points. Both joint motion and facet surface areas are restricted. A two-facet configuration would be more mobile. The two anterior facets combine to form one larger facet and enable more gliding of joint surfaces. The one facet configuration should be the most mobile since all the facets have blended into one” (Philip and Prabavathy 2014)

It is important to have “knowledge about the variations in the [subtalar] facets of calcanei [because it] is essential for orthopaedic surgeons” to help people with foot deformities. (Muthukumaravel et al.  2011).

This research aimed to examine patterns of the subtalar facets of calcanei and to find a correlation between subtalar facets of calcanei and population affinity.

The research project was conducted by utilizing 20 right adult dry calcaneal bones from the Texas State University Donated Skeletal Collection (TXSTDSC). There were eight females and twelve males included in the sample. Ancestry was considered; there were six Hispanic, five African-American, and nine Caucasian-American individuals. As far as it could be determined, the specimens were free of pathological conditions or irregularities. Sexual dimorphism was not considered for this research.

Figure 1

Figure 1.Variations in the Human Subtalar Joint: Photograph by Bruckner


Each calcaneus was examined by the author and assigned a Facet Type following Bruckner (1987) and Garg et al (2013) templates (table1 and figure 1). Photographs were taken of each calcaneus, that included a donation number and scale for recording purposes. The data was then analyzed by calculating the frequency of each Facet type within the total sample and for each ancestral group.


In the total sample, facet A with separate middle and anterior facets and facet C with middle and anterior facet fused were found in 30%.  Facet B was found in 25%, followed by facet D in 15%. Facet E and F were absent in this sample [Table 3].

These findings were compared with fourteen other studies, which were derived from the study of the calcaneal bones of African, Indian, Egyptian, Turkish, Belgian, and European populations [Table 2](Burning & Barnet 1965, Gupta SC et al 1977, Camposs 7 Pellcio 1989, Verhagen FD 1993, SaadehFA et al 2000, Barbaix E et al 2000, Ragab A et al 2003, Priya R et al 2006, Madhyi C et al 2008, Mujde Vuygur et al 2009, Muthukumar Netal 2011, Mini Mol P et al 2012, Garg et al 2012, Garg et al 2012). These previous studies showed a correlation between Facet type and population group, and it was argued by the authors that they were probably genetically determined. In a previous study by Burning and Barnett (1965), Facet C appeared with the highest frequency in African Americans and Facet A was predominant in Europeans. Whereas in Ragab (2003), a study on Americans (there was no specfic information on the populations) Facet C was more common than Facet A. Most studies showed that Egyptians, Africans, and Indians exhibited Facet C most frequently, followed by Fact A. Facet F is one of the rarest patterns which has been rarely been reported in any literature. Most of the individuals who have Facet F are reported from India and South India.

In the TXSTDSC, the Hispanic subsample exhibited facets A, B, and C at 33% frequency, and there was an absence of facet D, E, and F [Table 4]. In the African-American subsample facet C had 60% frequency, followed by facet A at 40% frequency. However in this TXSTDSC collection, facet B, D, E, and F were not present [Table 5]. In the Caucasian-American subsample, facet B and D were found at 33% frequencies, followed by facet A at 22% frequency facet C had only one individual (0.11%) [Table 6].

Comparing the TXSTDC African, Caucasian, and Hispanic subsample results to the previous studies, shows that there is agreement between population group and facet frequencies. Burning and Barnett (1965) African sample agrees with TXSTDSC African subsample findings because both find high frequencies of facet C, and facet A was also present in both studies but had a lower frequency. The Verghagen FD(2013) United State America sample, Ragab A et al(2003) American sample, agrees with TXSTDSC Caucasian subsample findings among similar frequencies of facet A. However, the Verghagen FD (2013) and Ragab A et al (2003) shows higher frequency for facet C, while the TXSTDSC shows a low frequency. Camposs and Pellicio (1989) Spaniard sample agrees with the in the TXSTDSC Hispanic subsample findings because both find similar frequencies of facet A, which followed by low frequency for facet C. Therefore, the TXSTDSC African, Caucasian, and Hispanic subsample agree with the previous studies.

In the present study, there were high frequencies of facet type A, B, and C in Hispanics, Caucasian, and African-American individuals. All these findings indicated that there was a correlation between the calcaneal facet pattern and race.


My internship experience has been exciting and memorable. Interning with FACTS has given me great hands-on experience that I will help my future career as a forensic anthropologist. I have become proficient in the siding and identifying each bone within the human skeleton. I have practiced and learned the standards for labeling and inventorying skeletal remains. I have learned how to use photoshop to edit inventory photos, and learned how to conduct a research project. This has given me an insight of graduate school and the field of forensic anthropology.  I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to have interned with FACTS. I will continue to volunteer to gain more experience and hopefully collect more data for my calcaneus project.



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