Bodybuilding: High School Students Reconstruct Human Skeleton in UMass Summer Workshop

Greenfield high school students reconstructing a human skeleton
Thursday, August 9, 2012

By the end of their weeklong workshop in biological anthropology, seven Greenfield High School students could reconstruct a human skeleton, make no bones about it. They were given that very opportunity in August, when a fictional dog “discovered” the bones of a human hand. A mock crime scene was erected at the Green River Swimming and Recreation Area, as students carefully mapped out the area and identified other bones discovered nearby.

It was the final assignment of a weeklong summer workshop taught by the Anthropology Department. Students spent the week at UMass — learning about different bones, evolution, archaeology and forensic anthropology — before concluding the week in Greenfield.

Rain forced the crime scene investigators inside the high school. But even then, the students were able to assemble the skeleton — made up of real human bones — in under 15 minutes, said Mary Link, coordinator of the program and director of special projects and development at Greenfield schools. “They laid out the body with all the bones in exactly the right place—the arms and legs on the correct sides, the ribs in the right order and attached the right way,” said Link. “These students all know the names of these bones which they didn’t have a clue about a week ago.”

Once they reconstructed the skeleton, anthropology graduate students Sarah Reedy and Gina Agostini guided the students through an investigative discussion, trying to find out as much as possible about the skeleton’s identity. The bones can help determine age, height, gender, as well as illnesses or injuries before, during or after death. Forensic anthropologists look for any clues “that might help to narrow down who that person was,” said Reedy.

The workshop — designed by Agostini and Reedy, who both volunteer their time — has been available to Greenfield High School students free of charge for the last three summers. Students earn one high school credit, said Link. Agostini said the program gives students a chance to learn about something new in a college academic setting. At least one alumna of the workshop ended up enrolling in a UMass anthropology class, she said. “[We] expose them to a subject that they wouldn’t typically experience in high school. They get to work in an actual lab. We try to get them excited about UMass and about college in general.”

Senior Cassidy Moran enrolled in the workshop because she believes anthropology is something she is interested in pursuing after high school. “No courses like this are offered at GHS,” she said. “It was a good way to get interested in something outside of what we already knew.”

Agostini said that Greenfield High provides transportation and meals for the students each day. UMass pays for the workshop’s supplies each year and provides the bones.

This article was reprinted with permission by the Recorder in Greenfield, MA. Shores can be reached at cshores@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264.