Shown: Plaster casting from Pompeii. Credit: Giorgio Sommer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Shown: Plaster casting from Pompeii. Credit: Giorgio Sommer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Dead Bodies: Bioarchaeology and Forensic Science, with Natalia Reagan

Shown: Plaster casting from Pompeii. Credit: Giorgio Sommer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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About This Episode

What can the dead teach us? On this episode of StarTalk All-Stars, we tap into your morbid curiosity, as host and primatologist Natalia Reagan sits down with comic co-host Sarah Rose Siskind to investigate bioarchaeology and forensic science with bioarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove and forensic anthropologist Chris Rainwater.

We take you all the way from ancient history to modern day, starting with the eruption of Mt Vesuvius. You’ll hear about Kristina’s research at Oplontis, a small town near Pompeii, and how she uses bioarcheology to study how people lived before the infamous eruption. Learn more about bioarchaeological techniques, like 3D imaging, and how they’re used to uncover data at dig sites. Investigate disease ecology and what it tells us about how people lived their lives before the eruption. Discover more about the socioeconomic nature of Oplontis. Explore how the extremes of heat, like an eruption, can fracture skulls, or cause “exploding skulls.” Kristina takes us through her bioarchaeological process including examining teeth, analyzing DNA, and more. Find out how Kristina got involved in bioarchaeology and her thoughts on the future of the field.

We transition from ancient history to modern day as Chris Rainwater joins Natalia and Sarah to share his experiences in the field of forensic anthropology through the lens of the Medical Examiner’s office in New York City. Chris offers a retort for the “exploding skulls” hypothesis. You’ll hear how forensic anthropologists exist in the Medical Examiner’s office and why the day-to-day schedule can vary depending on the case. Find out about the techniques used in forensic anthropology. Chris discusses how forensic anthropologists are used to help investigate mass disaster cases, and how they were used at Ground Zero. Sarah tries to plan a death that will give Chris a great puzzle to put together. All that, plus, find out how often people mistake human bones for something else.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can watch or listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Dead Bodies: Bioarchaeology and Forensic Science, with Natalia Reagan.

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