Poetic Archaeology A.3 — Meghan’s Brush With Forensic Archaeology

what do we do now

we do archaeology

girl you can do this

(Catch up with Part 1 and Part 2)

Meghan gives herself a mental shake. You’ve excavated burials before, she thinks. This isn’t so different.

There was the 1800s cemetery that had to be moved. And the two Late Woodland Native American graves that were found when a new sewer line was built. But those burials were old. This could be a murder from ten or twenty years ago, maybe even this year.

No, not this year, Meghan realizes. The soils in this part of the county are acidic, but they couldn’t act that fast. How long would it take flesh to completely decay in this park?

Focus, she thinks. Take some extra soil samples. Forensics experts can test them. Test them for what? Hell, I don’t know. They’re the experts.

“Dr. Bode? What do we do now?” Detective Sandberg asks again.

Meghan checks her watch. It’s two-thirty, and the October sun will set in another four hours.

“It’s too late to finish an excavation today. But we can do the prep work and start in the morning.”

Sandberg turns to the uniformed officer. “I’ll take the first shift. Get me a sub and a thermos of coffee. Then come back at midnight for the second.” Sandberg excuses himself to call his wife, apologizing that he’ll be home late.

Good idea, Meghan thinks. She pulls out her phone and texts her husband. Held up with work. Reheat leftovers if not back by 6. Make sure John starts his homework.

Meghan grabs a few items from her truck—compass, surveyor’s tape, and GPS unit.

“What’s the tape for?” Sandberg asks. “You’ve got GPS.”

“It’s not accurate enough to plot something as small as a burial. I’ll get some readings but also do a map based on taped measurements. Could you grab the clipboard and yellow toolbox for me?”

Sandberg brings over the box and thick metal clipboard. Meghan’s hyper aware of his gaze as she takes GPS readings of the burial, some large trees, and the jogging path. Normally she would be with her crew, listening to them talk about their weekend plans or tell stories about other field projects. But Sandberg isn’t talking to her, and she doesn’t want to make any mistakes in front of him.

She pushes a large spike into the ground by the base of a large oak tree and takes a final reading. This will be her datum point for her sketch maps of the burial excavation.

Her nervousness eases with the familiar routine. She pulls a sheet of graph paper from her clipboard and and prepares to sketch the general layout of the site, including the largest trees and the shrub-lined path where she took earlier GPS readings.

“Detective Sandberg? Could you hold the end of the tape over this spike? I need to take some measurements.”

Sandberg stands under the oak tree as Meghan gets her compass bearings and then walks toward the burial. The click and whir of the unwinding tape accompanies the crunch of her footsteps on dry leaves. Reaching the exposed bones, she reads the distance and pulls a pencil from her pocket to begin drawing her her map. Then she rejoins Sandberg at the datum and repeats the process with other landmarks.

Within forty minutes, she’s finished the sketch map. Sandberg looks over her shoulder to see confident lines and legible text.

Click the map for a larger, more readable image

“You’ve been at this a while, haven’t you,” he says.

“Since I was an undergrad. It’s been nearly twenty years now. I’ll be back in a minute. I’m going to grab some sample bags from the truck.”

“What for?”

“Maybe nothing. But I thought I’d collect some of the leaf litter from the burial area and from a control spot. Maybe forensic folks will see something I can’t. . . . I mean, if this is a murder, won’t you call in some real experts?”

Sandberg sighs. “Like on the TV shows? Only if necessary. But here in real life? I hope not. My legwork’s a lot cheaper.”

Meghan collects leaf samples and some of the topsoil from the burial and another spot about twenty yards away. She labels the plastic bags and adds the location of the control sample to her sketch map. Returning to the grave, she begins pushing the leaf layer away from what she thinks is the likely burial location.

Sandberg kneels down and helps. “We’re ready to dig?”

Meghan nods. “When do you want to start?”

“Meet me at the park entrance at seven. The sun comes up by seven-fifteen, and I want that body out before the end of the day.”

To be continued. I’m in the office today, so I’ll reply to comments this evening.

58 thoughts on “Poetic Archaeology A.3 — Meghan’s Brush With Forensic Archaeology

  1. Pingback: Poetic Archaeology A.10 — Meghan’s Brush With Forensic Archaeology « jmmcdowell

  2. Better late than never… 🙂 I on,y made it to #2 before throwing up my hands with Anastasia and reading and flaking out last year. I really was excited to finish this, can’t believe it’s been so long. Then again, get to read all at once, so that’s good! 🙂


    • That’s the advantage of waiting until the story’s finished before reading. You don’t have to deal with weekly cliffhangers! 🙂 Great to see you back in Blog Land!


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