Using bones to solve the mystery

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Michigan State’s College of Social Science offers 31 different undergraduate majors from economics to criminal justice to history. But, there’s one that goes a little deeper.

“We go through the process where we create what’s called the biology profile where we look at the age, sex, ancestry and stature of the individual as estimated from their human skeletal remains,” Dr. Joe Hefner, an assistant professor in the Anthropology Department and Director of the MSU Forensic Anthropology lab, said.

Dr. Hefner is a rare kind of professional, being one of about 130 board certified professionals in the country and the anthropology department is a rare kind itself.

“We’re one of six PhD programs in the country,” Dr. Hefner said. “We are one of the only programs that has two board certified forensic anthropologists working on it, working in the lab.”

He’s worked on some big cases such as 9/11.

“I was responsible for victim identification,” he said. “I worked on the flight that crashed in Somerset, Pennsylvania, which was United Flight 93.”

Now, this Spartans using his knowledge to teach the future generations of anthropologists.

“It allows us to train the next generation of PhD students and there aren’t many places you can do that,” he said.

Kelly Kamnikar is a PhD student in the department.

“It’s really cool that I work with a bunch of cool people and we get to learn from each other,” she said.

Working on cases at the local, state and even the federal level.

“We’re working on homicides, we’re working on cold cases and cases that just happened last week,” Dr. Hefner said.

Working on about 80 cases from their lab in Fee Hall.

“Everything that’s done in here is strictly analytical,” he said. “We will lay out skeletons on the table, for example, or use the light tables to view and compare medical radiographs.”