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Popular forensic short courses underway at Mercyhurst

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Applied Forensic Sciences Department at Mercyhurst University welcomes dozens of participants from around the country for its annual short courses beginning this week with “Death Scene Archaeology: Field Methods in the Location, Recovery and Interpretation of Human Remains from Outdoor Contexts.”

Traditionally coroners, medical examiners, law enforcement, anthropologists and students attend the popular hands-on educational series held each June on the Mercyhurst campus.

The program is headed by department chair Dennis Dirkmaat, Ph.D., in collaboration with Mercyhurst forensic anthropology faculty Steven Symes, Ph.D., Heather Garvin, Ph.D., and Alexandra Klales, Ph.D. A number of guest lecturers are expected as well.

Through lectures and mock outdoor crime scenes, the Death Scene course (June 1-5) exposes participants to state-of-the-art techniques in the location and archaeological recovery of human remains from outdoor contexts, including surface scattered sites and buried body features.  

The second installment, “Fragmentary Human Osteology,” runs from June 8-12 and centers on identifying fragmentary human bone, differentiating human from non-human bone and understanding the basics of bone biology.

“Analysis of Bone Trauma in Suspected Violent Deaths” (June 15-19) focuses on the differentiation of ante-, peri-, and postmortem trauma to bone, beginning with recognition and preliminary interpretation at autopsy through biomechanical interpretations in the laboratory.

The annual summer session concludes June 22-26 with a weeklong course on “Documentation and Interpretation of the Fatal Fire Scene.” This course familiarizes participants with current methods employed during the recovery of victims from fatal fire scenes. The focus is on search techniques and evidence documentation protocols that result in efficient, effective, and timely fatal fire scene recovery operations. Following classroom training, students will participate in the recovery of a mock fatal fire involving a burned structure.

For more information, contact Dennis Dirkmaat at


(2014 Short Course File Photo)