UT Forensic Anthropology Center uses new techniques to solve cold cases

Published: Mar. 8, 2018 at 3:01 PM EST
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When detectives need help solving their toughest criminal cases, they often look to the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. More than three decades after Dr. William Bass founded the center in connection with a first-of-its kinds outdoor research facility for body decomposition, researchers are continuing his scientific legacy.

Current director Dr. Dawnie Steadman said while UT research has sparked many books and television shows, the work is not always as quick to yield results as it might appear in a work of fiction.

"I think a lot of the misconceptions that come from the TV shows and books is how quickly crimes might get solved, and the notion that every crime can be solved, and that's simply not always the case," she said.

However, Steadman said researchers are intent on not giving up on any cold case. "And we continue to work on those for many, many years to make sure that even the cold cases get the proper attention, and new scientific techniques that come down that we can apply to them."

Steadman said two of the more recent discoveries the center has made involved updating techniques for using measurements to identify remains, and comparing the accuracy of using animal bones to do research on human decomposition. She said the animal bones have tended not to work as well.

"When it comes to developing new methods for estimating the postmortum interval, or how long ago somebody died, we really have to have human standards in order to apply it to human forensic cases," she explained.

At any time, around 100 undergraduates and up to 50 graduate students are working toward degrees or even volunteering at the center.

Scientists and law enforcement officers visit the center from around the globe to train on the latest techniques in forensics.