death won’t silence him
others may still hear his tale
through such foreign means
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.”
“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.”
“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.