Body Farm

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

To stick to my apparent dead bodies theme of the new year, I went to see Dr. William "Bill" Bass speak tonight at the University of Tennessee. For those of you who are not familiar with Dr. Bass, he is the almighty forensic anthropologist who started the first "Body Farm", which is a research facility where human decomposition after death can be scientifically studied in a variety of settings. Basically, he sets up corpses in different environments that are at different stages of decomposition and watches how they decompose to further educate the science world about human life and death. His books and his stories have become very famous, with much awareness after the North Georgia Tri-State Crematory scandal...quite bizarre story if you have not yet heard about it. Not only is he a renowned forensic anthropologist, but he is also very well known in other aspects of anthropology and the head of the department of anthropology here at UT. After listening to him speak tonight, I am quite envious of his students that have taken his classes. He is an extremely smart man with lots of interesting stories, and to top it all off, he was quite comedic. The topic of his lecture tonight was appropriate after coming back from a cadaver lab in which the bodies will now by cremated.

Some highlights from the Tennessee man in a very Tennessee manner included:

"This here is a table that you can roll the bodies on to transfer them into the oven. You can roll them right out of the hearse or in some cases right out of the back of a pickup truck."

"An average adult body's ashes weighs about 5-6 pounds. You know if your Grandma comes back in a cardboard box that only weighs 2 pounds, you got shorted."

In response to "What do you do with all the ashes for a 300-pound man whose ashes don't all fit in the box?" "Well, you cram 'em in there and what's left, well, you can put 'em in a paper bag to go with it."

"I once worked the case of Chigger. He wasn't a lucky fella. He was playin' a game of poker with his brothers one night and got into some trouble. One brother pulled out a .22 and shot him right in the chest. So Chigger walked around with that bullet in his chest till he died. When it came time to cremate 'em, you better believe that bullet was there with his bones, little melted but it was there."

I do believe that will complete the cadaver chapter of my life.

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