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Texas State to dedicate new forensic anthropology lab

By Ann Friou
University News Service
October 21, 2011

A new multipurpose facility housing a forensic anthropology research laboratory was dedicated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Texas State University-San Marcos Thursday, Oct. 20.

The new facility, the Osteological Research and Processing Laboratory (ORPL), is located on Texas State’s Freeman Ranch in San Marcos.

The ORPL, to be operated as part of the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State (FACTS), will enhance the Center’s research into human decomposition. FACTS is the largest forensic anthropology research and training center in the United States. Research into human decomposition rates and skeletal variations provides information on age at death, sex, stature, ancestry, and more—information that assists law enforcement in identifying human remains and in establishing the time and nature of death. It also generates new data for advancing forensic anthropology and for improving methods of identifying human remains.

“Our new forensic processing laboratory is one of the most advanced laboratories of its kind,” said Daniel J. Wescott, director of FACTS. A drive-up bay inside the building is equipped with x-ray and anthropometric instruments so that the bone and soft-tissue characteristics and disease patterns of donor bodies can be recorded before they are taken to FACTS’ 26-acre outdoor decomposition research laboratory. After decomposing in the outdoor lab, bodies will be returned to the ORPL where the skeletons will be cleaned and analyzed.

The lab also has an autopsy suite for analyzing forensic cases and a skeletal processing station for cleaning skeletons before they are stored. Students taking classes in the building’s two classrooms will have easy access to the outdoor decomposition lab, for hands-on training.

Additionally, the building provides FACTS with a secure facility for the processing and analysis of donated bodies, which is required for certification as a forensic laboratory.

“The new building will allow us to provide high-quality education and training for students and professionals in forensic anthropology, and to assist scholars from the U.S. and abroad in conducting research of benefit to the medicolegal community,” Wescott said. “We also hope that the new lab and our other excellent facilities will enable us to build partnerships with scholars and law enforcement around the world as we advance knowledge about human decomposition.”

FACTS faculty regularly assist law enforcement in the identification of human skeletal remains and provide training in body recovery techniques and in determining identity and cause of death. Faculty also assist law enforcement in solving cold cases through skeletal and DNA analyses.

Since FACTS’ outdoor decomposition laboratory opened in 2008, research has been conducted on some 40 donated individuals, and another 90 living persons have pre-registered as donors to the program.

More information on FACTS is available by visiting the website at www.txstate.edu/anthropology/facts/.