Anatomy of Engagement

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From left, Alice Fazlollah and students Michael McClung and Chelsy Schrock Anthropology project…

Georgia (Nov 25, 2015)

From left, Alice Fazlollah and students Michael McClung and Chelsy Schrock

Anthropology project helps law officers understand impact of bomb explosions

KENNESAW, Ga. (Nov. 25, 2015) — Days after tragedy struck in Paris, France, the threat posed by terrorists who kill and maim by shooting and detonating explosives added urgency to research underway in a forensic anthropology lab at Kennesaw State University. 

A team of seven faculty members and undergraduate students in the Department of Geography and Anthropology are carefully reconstructing and analyzing more than 1,200 bones of six wild pigs in the second phase of a collaborative project to help law enforcement officials in Rome and Augusta, Ga., learn more about the impact of bomb blasts and explosives.

The research project, led by forensic anthropology lab instructor Alice Fazlollah and Susan Kirkpatrick Smith, associate professor and department chair, has engaged students with the Floyd County Police Department, the Northwest Georgia Bomb Squad, the Floyd County Medical Center and the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office Bomb Squad. 

The bone analysis follows the first stage of the collaboration in September during which bomb squads at both test sites staged the carefully controlled explosions of pigs placed at intervals of five, ten, and 15 feet from the blasts. The pigs used in the experiment were among those routinely and humanely trapped and killed to stem persistent wild hog overpopulation in Georgia.

Lab analysis involves laying out about 200 bones for each pig to determine the type of fractures at various distance intervals, as well as the number, location and patterns of fractures, which all indicate the direction from which the bomb and injuries came. 

The project grew from a research paper Kennesaw State student Michael McClung wrote on blast-force trauma for his lab in forensic anthropology class last spring. The paper was based on a lab experiment simulating a terrorist attack similar to the Boston Marathon bombing, using a homemade-style device.

Fazlollah said she realized the potential scope of McClung’s investigation and reached out to law enforcement officials across the state to take the research to the next level. She decided to experimentally investigate blast trauma to the skeleton, bringing McClung on as a research assistant because of his interest and background knowledge. He is receiving course credit for his individual research project within the larger scope of the research. He is specifically investigating the evidence of trauma to the ribs.

“I found I really enjoy forensic analysis,” said McClung, a senior who is weighing graduate school and career options in physical anthropology or archaeology and cultural resource management. “But your interest in this field really grows as you continue with the analyses and see the real-world potential for this to help with all the things going on in the world.”

After the explosions, members of the Floyd County Police Department and the Richmond County Sheriff’s Department investigated the post-blast scenes with their evidence technicians. Fazlollah and her students collected remains, leaving the bones outside to dry for several weeks, then cleaned them and brought them to the lab at Kennesaw State.

“We’re anthropologists interested in the biology of the skeleton — the biomechanics of bones, she said. “From that standpoint, the circumstances [how you arrive at skeletal remains] doesn’t matter much. However, the implication of what we do can be critical in law enforcement investigations.”

Senior Chelsy Schrock assisted with photographing the site and with analyzing the pigs’ leg bones. She believes this type research will help in her academic and professional goals.

“I’m very interested in studying bones,” said Schrock, who is applying for graduate school to study bone biology and diseases of the bone. “There are many other accidents that injure people’s bones and differentiating patterns of bone injury is useful research.”

The next step in the process will be to analyze the dispersal of the remains using the mapping data collected at the site, Fazlollah explained. “Some of the remains were dispersed over 100 feet from the site of the blast. We are lucky to have many specialists in geography and GIS [Geographic Information Science] in our department to help with this.

The research will serve law enforcement and further scientific study, says Fazlollah, who plans to write a report of the team’s findings for the law enforcement agencies. Individual members of the research team, including students, will write and publish academic papers based on the research. In addition to publication, the results will also be shared in an oral presentation for a regional forensic specialists working group that provides training and information to law enforcement, forensic technicians, medical personnel, and investigators in Georgia.

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— Sabbaye McGriff

Photos by David Caselli



A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 38,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.

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