Forensic anthropologists at Texas State University are helping to solve four unusual cold cases, for the television series “The Decrypters” that will air on the National Geographic Channel beginning March 29, 2012.
“The series will tie the investigative methods used by forensic anthropologists to sweeping events in American history,” said Michelle Hamilton, who with Kate Spradley is studying the skeletons of individuals who died in America some 150-250 years ago.
The TV schedule:
Each of the skeletons that Hamilton and Spradley are investigating will be featured in an hour-long episode of “The Decrypters.” They include:
- March 29, 7-8 p.m. CT: The Last Mohican (Albany, N.Y.). A male skeleton from the 1750s is exhumed from a British military cemetery inside Fort William Henry in upstate New York. Fort William Henry, in use by the British at the time of the French and Indian War (1754-1763), was also the site of a massacre recorded in James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Last of the Mohicans. Preliminary analysis of the skeleton indicates that he is well-nourished and doesn’t appear to be a British soldier, who would have shown signs of stress from the ocean crossing and adjustment to a harsh American climate. If the skeleton isn’t British, could he have been a Native American, and if so, why was he working for the British?
- April 19: Body Snatchers (Cincinnati, Ohio). The skeletons of a young man and woman are found together in one coffin. Were the couple, who died in the 1860s, married? Had they fallen victim to the cholera epidemic that swept Cincinnati during the city’s phenomenal population boom? Were they buried together to protect them from roving body snatchers, who were stealing corpses of the recently dead on behalf of medical school students?
- April 26: Gold Rush Murder (Sacramento, Calif.). A male skeleton from the 1840s is unearthed at the historic Sutter’s Fort near Sacramento, Calif., the first white trading post in California. Was he a pioneer, arriving in a wagon train from the East, or perhaps a Gold Rush prospector? Was he a Native American hired as a guard by the fort’s owner? Was he a Russian who arrived in California via Alaska? Or could he have been related to the ill-fated Donner party, which passed the winter of 1846-47 in the Sierra Nevada, resorting to cannibalism to stay alive? And did the musket balls found in his coffin kill him? Skeletal analysis answers questions about the man’s origin and sheds light on life at the fort.
- May 10: Cowboy Corpse (Denver, Colo.). The Denver, CO, coroner’s office seeks help in identifying the large-boned skeleton of a man who died between 1870 and 1880. Could the big man have been a cowboy, a farmer, or a railway worker? What caused his broken nose, pathological leg, and the diamond-shaped gap in his front teeth? And did the man, whose toe bone shows signs of disease, die of gangrene?
From Forensic Magazine about “the Last Mohican” this: “The 17 other human skeletons discovered at Fort William Henry in Lake George since the 1950s were the remains of Europeans, but the features of Burial 14’s skull indicated he hailed from elsewhere, possibly Africa. Now, forensics experts say they’ve answered some lingering questions about Burial 14, and in the process stirred up another mystery and some controversy: How did an American Indian from the western U.S. wind up 2,000 miles away in the Adirondacks, and what should be done with his remains?” More here. Let me know if you watched the show.