A lot of work has gone into planning my trip to the Human Taphonomy Facilities. As part of my preparation I attended a conference at University College London on 'Does the UK need a Body Farm?'
|Ready to take notes!|
Dr Anna Williams of Huddersfield University introduced us to Body Farms and what they are, and why we are campaigning for one in the UK.
Speakers included Dr Jamie Pringle of Keele University who spoke to us about geophysics research and how it can help when trying to find buried human remains. There are various methods used, including ground penetrating radar (think Time Team). Studies in this area would be greatly improved if they could use human remains to search - we need to be able to research what human remains 'look' like when searched for using geophysical methods.
Dr Lorna Irish, from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, spoke about the training of Victim Recovery (VR) Dogs. At present VR dogs are trained using pig carcasses. I'm sure you all know how extremely sensitive dog noses are - humans have about 6 million scent receptors in our noses, while dogs have about 300 million! Because of this, we may be training the VR dogs to find very physiologically similar, but chemically different animals.
Our final talk was a fascinating one on how a human taphonomic facility would help with forensic entomology research, given by Dr Martin Hall & Dr Amoret Whitaker from the Natural History Museum (my favourite museum in London). Entomology is the study of insects, and forensic entomology is when we can use insects to help us learn a bit more about the circumstances of a crime. Most commonly forensic entomology is used when dealing with human remains - it can help us narrow down timelines when remains are recovered and we don't know how long the body has been there.
The sessions ended with a question and answer session, where the attendees got to ask the speakers whatever they wanted. The attendees included academics and students, as well as members of the public. It was interesting to hear the overall positive support for a taphonomy facility in the UK. Mention was made of the use of 'body farm' as a name for the facility. The consensus seemed to be that this term put people off. Forensic anthropologists generally prefer the term human taphonomic facility (HTF), but body farm seems to have entered the public consciousness!
Dr Anna Williams, University of Huddersfield
My next few entries will be about the history of body farms, as well as more detail on the different disciplines who will benefit from such a facility.
If you have any questions or have any topics you want me to cover in particular, please let me know.