Caught Off Guard

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Hands-on experiences at the Ibis Archeological Field School, an anthropology field study in Costa Rica, yield surprising and rewarding forensic results for students.

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Students participating in APY 502.

When instructor Monica Faraldo, B.G.S. ’01, M.A. ’02, organized this archeological dig at Isla San Lucas, a now-defunct penal colony off the coast of Costa Rica, she had no idea her students would unearth a century-old mystery. Working with researchers at Museo Nacional de Costa Rica to connect the historical dots, Faraldo and 11 UM students spent a week in the cemetery where inmates were buried, sifting through dirt with soft brushes and a heady patience. They expected to find bone fragments, but students Jonathan Atwood and Jackie Bayliss stumbled upon the full skeletal remains of a 25- to 30-year-old male, as well as the kind of brass buttons that adorned guard uniforms at the Alcatraz-like prison between 1873 and 1920.

On Course
Title: APY 502 “Field Studies in Anthropology”
Department: Anthropology,  College of Arts and Sciences

Employing forensic measurements and computer programs, students in APY 502, also called the Ibis Archeological Field School, determined the guard was likely a Central American and that the four bullet holes in his skull were probably from a .22-caliber gun. After the discovery made Costa Rican headlines, one family offered to submit DNA to the researchers, suspecting the remains are those of a grandfather rumored to have been murdered at the prison. Faraldo and her students will complete the excavation during summer 2009.

April Cohen, A.B. ’06, M.A.L.S. ’08, who took APY 502, placed second for field school findings she presented at the 2008 Citizens Board Research and Creativity Forum. Atwood, Bayliss, and fellow students Jackie Ventura and Laura Lopez won third place in the undergraduate research category for their findings.


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