Then Human Skeleton

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Read the article and answer the following questions:

Article: What Do We Tell the Sheriff? Determining Minimum Numbers of Individuals (MNI) for a Scatter of Human Bones. — Phoebe R. Stubblefield and Elizabeth A. Scharf

It is a gorgeous fall day, and people are enjoying it by bicycling, hiking, and picnicking at Itasca State Park. The day’s mood changes, however, when you receive a phone call from the local sheriff’s office asking your forensic anthropology team to come out to the state park.

“A hiker found some bones near Lake Itasca and wants us to come out and identify them. We’re wondering if these are the three brothers who disappeared last summer. Can you help us?”

You tell them that you’ll be there as soon as possible and quickly place a few calls to other members of your forensic team. You load your SUV and drive over to Itasca State Park to meet your colleagues and investigate the situation.

The sheriff’s officers and the hiker lead you to the scene. By the time you arrive, there is only half an hour of daylight remaining. In the somewhat secluded glade of trees, you see scattered bones. While the sheriff’s officers hurriedly photograph the scene, you map the bone scatter and determine that the bones are human. One of your team members compiles a preliminary inventory as you collect each bone:

  • 3 skulls
  • 6 femora
  • 4 hip bones (os coxa)
  • 2 humeri
  • 2 tibiae
  • 5 scapulae

Refer as needed to this handout entitled “Human Skeletal Elements” for the locations of these bones in the human skeleton.

The next morning, your team returns to work in the laboratory, where you get a call from the sheriff. The family of the three missing boys is pressuring him for information. Your team begins the final osteological exam. After careful examination, you produce your final inventory. You are working with the same number of bones, but you now have determined which side of the body they came from (when applicable).

You have:

  • 3 skulls
  • 6 femora (4 right and 2 left)
  • 4 hip bones (1 right and 3 left)
  • 2 humeri (right)
  • 2 tibiae (left)
  • 5 scapulae (3 right and 2 left)
  1. How many bones are in the collection? (This number is called the NISP- Number of Identified Specimens.)
  2. Which of the bones in the collection belong to the axial skeleton? Which belong to the appendicular skeleton?
  3. What is the maximum number of individuals who could be represented by these bones? Explain your answer. (Hint: Assume every bone in the collection could be from a different person.)
  4. The MNI is the Minimum Number of Individuals—the lowest number of individuals needed to account for the bones present. Print out thisBone Collection Worksheetto help you calculate the MNI. It contains all the bones in the collection: 3 skulls, 6 femora, 4 os coxae, 2 humeri, 2 tibiae, and 5 scapulae. How many skeletons can you make from the bones in the worksheet? Recreate the skeletons and submit a picture of your skeletons to your instructor with each of the bones labeled. (Helpful Hint: Multiple bones of the same type can belong to the same individual. For example, one person has two femur bones, one on the right and one on the left.)
  5. Why do you think the MNI is important when working in a scenario like this?
  6. What do you tell the sheriff?
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