”Nothing you could tell from an old dry bone.” The medical examiner said, refusing to do any analysis at all.” This quote, taken from the novel Dead Men Do Tell Tales, is a typical thought of some people who believe that after a human dies, their body is unable to tell stories from their life. “What is dead is dead and done with,” they say. But, this is quite the opposite from the truth.
People feel that once a person is dead, they are done with. Any secrets of the dead are buried with them six feet under when they pass away. But, just because the heart is no longer beating, does not mean you can’t figure out things that have happened to the body, simply by investigating the remains. A career has formed from this study of the human remains. This career is known as being a forensic anthropologist. The science of forensic anthropology consists of listening closely to the whispers from the dead about the details of their dramatic lives. “The skeletal remains that had moldered two years in the wild could still speak to me.” Says William R. Marples, author of Dead Men Do Tell Tales. Mary Roach, author of Stiff, says, “To visit the bodies of the dead and see what they say. That is the purpose of my job.”
The quote “Dead men can tell tales”, means that the marks on the remains of a body can tell you about injuries that occurred during a human’s life, just as well as the person themselves could if they were still alive. As written in Dead Men Do Tell Tales, “We keep no secrets from our bones.” Evidence on our bones from injury, such as a gunshot wound, would show that the human had been shot before.
“The perforated skull with the pitted brain case yielded up information that agreed very well with the reports of the man in life. It could even describe to me the last hours of the unfortunate farmhand, shunned and alone, stumbling into the swamp in pain, his brain swarming with infection, invaders that gnawed away at his balance, his reason and the very bone that encased his brain,” Says William R. Marples in his novel. He got this from simply investigating the traces of evidence of a deteriorated skull found in a swamp.
“The injury on the left occurred before the one on the right, because a fracture from the left injury crosses the one on the right. Therefore, the blow on the left fell first.” This quote taken from the story Dead Men Do Tell Tales, shows that by figuring out the trajectory of a blow, you can figure out which occurred first.
In the La Belle Drug Case, forensic anthropologists found a pile of three dead bodies in a pit, killed by business men. The forensic anthropologists figured out that the man on the bottom of the pit was the last to die, not the first, strictly through evidence left on the bones. “During the excavation we found small plastic wrappers that had encircled buckshot in shotgun shells. By the location of these wrappers, on top of the bodies and between them, we were able to establish the sequence of events. The body buried deepest had been shot last, not first. Our conclusion was later corroborated by the informant, who later testified in court that the man who laid bottom most in the grave was actually the last to die.” This quote shows that with research, you can figure out the cause of death, in detail of what happened first and how the incident had gone down.
Another quote taken from Dead Men Do Tell Tales that supports the idea that you can tell the story of a person’s life from just their remains and how their death occurred, including from what weapon, how hard it was struck, from what trajectory, and many more aspects, is “One of the fractures was around penetration of the frontal bone, which clearly showed the circular mark of the hammer. A small portion of bone was broken at the edge, but hinged downward, indicating that the bone was fresh and elastic when the injury took place. Fracture lines radiated out from this penetration.”
Within the archives of our skeletons, are written down the intimate diaries of our lives: Our ancestry, our illness, our injuries and infirmities, sometimes even our most secret sins. All we have ever been is inscribed within our skeletons, to be revealed at last when they stand forth naked, waiting to be stripped free of their secrets. Dead men can in fact tell tales.