Poetic Archaeology A.6 — Meghan’s Brush With Forensic Archaeology

death won’t silence him

others may still hear his tale

through such foreign means

(Catch up with Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5)

Tom Sandberg is impressed. For all Meghan Bode’s nervousness about the case, she’s already given him useful information. He’s dealing with a teenager, probably a boy. Back in the office, he’ll start with missing persons records—if the skeleton isn’t old. And he still hopes it is. Tree roots have to mean the boy’s been there a long time, don’t they?

Sandberg can also understand Meghan’s explanations. Even when she throws out terms like epiphyseal fusion, he can decipher their meaning from the rest of her words. She’s probably a good teacher.

He shakes another small bucket-load of soil through the screen. But he soon resorts to pushing the remaining small, sticky clay balls through the 1/8-inch mesh. So far, no artifacts have shown up. Given Meghan’s careful scraping, he doubts any will.

“Why screen?” he asks. “How could you be missing anything?”

“Most of the time we’re shovel-skimming, not troweling. The bucket fills up faster with bigger chunks of soil that hide small artifacts. That’s why we normally use 1/4-inch mesh. You’d never get all the screening done with the 1/8 inch. And when I trowel a normal feature like a storage pit, I don’t have to be as careful as with a burial. Small artifacts get past me. With a skeleton, I don’t want to miss any clues. So I still make sure nothing’s slipped through.”

“Ever find anything interesting on a dig?”

Meghan laughs as she continues her excavation. “Thanks for not asking about buried treasure or dinosaur bones. That’s what I usually hear.”

Sandberg keeps quiet. He was about to add those very details to his question.

“If you like American history, I’ve found some good early plantation sites from the 1700s and even one from the 1650s. There have been a few Spanish coins if you want to call that treasure. But archaeologists don’t do dinosaurs, despite what most people think.”

Finished with the current load of soil in the screen, Sandberg stretches and waits for the next round. His arms and back are sore from the unaccustomed muscle movements. This is a good upper body workout. He watches as Meghan excavates near the skull. Her back is to him, blocking his view of the body. But when he hears her sharp intake of breath, he drops the screen.

“What is it?” he asks, kneeling beside her.

Meghan points to the right side of the skull, near the back of the head. “See the lines? Those aren’t sutures where bones meet. Those are fractures.”

“What kind?”

“I don’t know. My osteology courses didn’t cover forensic work. Maybe he fell and hit his head. Or maybe someone struck him from behind. Our physical anthropologist should know.”

Meghan begins to clear more soil from the back of the skull, bumping into Sandberg as she maneuvers around the body.

He crawls around her, trying to stay out of her way but wanting to see everything her quick, confident right hand reveals. Before long, she’s reached the area around the left hip.

“There’s something here,” Meghan says. She sets down her trowel and switches to a small brush. “It’s metal. Coins, I think. Yes. That’s interesting.”

“How so?”

“Where do you keep yours?”

“In my pocket,” Sandberg says, instinctively reaching down. “Of course. My right pocket.”

Meghan nods. “This boy might’ve been left-handed. Bone measurements should bear that out. The arm bones on our dominant side tend to be more robust from doing more work.”

“Can you read the dates on the coins?”

“Give me a few minutes.”

Meghan grabs her clipboard, adding to the burial sketch and writing notes. Then she takes more photos before removing the coins for a closer inspection.


“They’re hard to read. The soils are acidic, and corrosion’s setting in. One’s a wheat penny, I can tell that much. They stopped making them in the ’50s, I think. The other two are dimes. I can’t make out the date on the first one.”

“What about the other one?”

Meghan smiles. “I was wrong. It’s not a dime. Even better. We can narrow down when this boy died.”

Hmm, what has Meghan found? To be continued next Tuesday.

52 thoughts on “Poetic Archaeology A.6 — Meghan’s Brush With Forensic Archaeology

  1. Ooh, this is so gripping! Cliffhangers and everything! Last week I showed the instalment to my partner – I think I’ve mentioned before that archaology is the career choice he wishes he had made! He enjoyed it so much that he went back and read the previous instalments, and signed up to follow your blog just to make sure he didn’t miss future ones. So you’re bringing in new followers here just for the story!


    • Wow, that is so nice to hear! 🙂 I hope he enjoys the remaining installments—however many that is…. I’m not sure yet. 😉 Meghan and I are talking about the possibility of more short stories for her here on the blog. We’ll have to see if we can come up with something entertaining. I think she’s enjoying the stage. 😉


    • Aren’t I terrible? 😉 Actually, it was Meghan’s idea to pause there. I think she’s got a good feel for scene breaks that make readers say “just one more chapter” before putting the book down. Now to make sure I translate that to my novels!


    • I wonder if anyone will hazard a guess? Or if anyone knows what it could be? I only know about it through one of my husband’s old interests. 🙂 We’ll find out next week. 😉


    • Thanks, Char! 🙂 Meghan and Sandberg are really taking shape in my mind because of it. And it gives me the “I love writing” feeling. And that’s good since my recent manuscript revisions have been giving me too much of that “why am I trying to write?” feeling!


    • Ha, you’re excused! You’ve had those revisions to do. 🙂 Just a head’s up—Saturday’s post will be my response to the WIP challenge you and another blogger tagged me with.


  2. Like Sandberg, I’m hoping the site is an old one but I guess since the boy was wearing jeans and there was a wheat penny in there, it can’t be super old. But then I do keep forgetting what decade this is and I guess 100 or so years old is pretty old.


    • Isn’t it funny how time just slips away? One minute, we’re carefree children, when a year between birthdays is FOREVER! The next? Yikes, I’m how old this year?! Next week, we’ll have a good idea when this boy died. And we still have to address “how.” 😉


      • That is crazy that a year would take so long and now it’s so easy to misplace a decade. Can’t wait for the next installment!


  3. Now I’m sitting here trying to figure out what objects look like dimes, trying to guess what Meghan found! So do people ask you about dinosaurs and buried treasure a lot?


    • More will be revealed next week. 🙂 And we’ll see if anyone’s heard of what she found.

      Oh yeah, dinosaurs and buried treasure. Archaeologists get asked about those a lot. Buried treasure is rare, but sometimes we do find it. I never have. But when some of those amazing tombs are found in places like Latin America or Egypt, I can understand why people think of “treasure.” But the pirate kind is really rare. 😉

      Dinosaurs are another matter all together. That’s the realm of paleontologists. Archaeologists by definition deal with the remains of human activity. And contrary to what a few people mistakenly believe, dinosaurs and humans never coexisted. But both paleontologists and archaeologists play in the dirt, so I can see the confusion. 🙂


  4. I love this. The only object I can think of is a camera battery in the shape of a disk. I don’t even know if they still make those anymore, but I remember the camera I had in the 90s or thereabouts used that kind of a battery…

    But I never guess right, so I’m sure that’s not it. I’ll keep thinking while I tote the kids around to hip-hop, soccer practice, art class…


    • I remember those batteries, too. 🙂 But we’ll have to wait until next week to see what Meghan found….

      When this story is wrapped up, I’m wondering if I should rework it and try to submit it somewhere…. I know Writer’s Digest, for example, will let you submit something for their contests that’s only been used on your own blog…. But Death Out of Time will soon need more revisions and Summer at the Crossroads is almost ready for new beta readers…. Argh! And I don’t even have to juggle things like hip-hop, soccer practice, art class…!


  5. I was so looking forward to this today!
    I love how the story is advancing…plus I feel like I’m learning without being “talked down to” as the saying goes. Really great work. keep it coming. 🙂


    • 🙂

      I think we’ll have a nice breakthrough next week. 😉 And I’m happy to hear you and others don’t feel like I’m lecturing or “talking down” with the story’s details. I hate it when I run across it. There’s a real difference between being clear and being pedantic or overbearing! I want to be on the clear side. 🙂


  6. Intriguing place to end this excerpt! Definitely makes me want to keep reading and find out what she found. This is quite a cool mystery. 🙂


    • Thanks, Kourtney. 🙂 Meghan seems to like these little cliffhangers. Isn’t it interesting to see how characters take shape and evolve as you spend more time writing about them? When I started adding her to Poetic Archaeology, I never knew about this side of her. 🙂


  7. Great writing, love the style and the content! I’m always so amazed by all that science and forensics and archaeology can reveal about mysterious things that have happened so long ago… wow. 🙂


    • Now that wouldn’t be fair to my other readers! 🙂 Besides—I still have to write next Tuesday’s installment! I need the right words first for those ideas….


  8. I love the little details you are putting in. You have found a nice balance (for me anyway). You are doing a good job with these you know – well done 🙂

    Nice little cliffhanger too.


  9. Thanks, Elliot. 🙂 I sometimes wonder if I’m missing potential new readers because I have this under a “poetry” title. So some readers might ignore it in the Explore Topics Writing feed when the posts go up. If I do another true short story for Meghan, I might move it out of Poetic Archaeology. But first things first—we have to complete this one. 🙂


  10. Waiting, waiting…dancing while waiting! A real non-tv Bone watch!
    (Oh, historical commission is in court trying to stop road here for 100 days to explore burial area – the newest thought it that these bones are older than originally thought – artifacts as old as 14,000 years possibly Paleoindians migrated from Asia.)


    • Meghan is really enjoying the positive feedback on her story! 🙂

      Wow, if the skeletons are from the Paleoindian period, that would be amazing. There are few human remains known from that time. And, of course, there are some tantalizing (and extremely controversial) clues that others might have been here even earlier from Ice Age Western Europe…. There are so many discoveries still to be made!


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