Body farm oversight

Candidate for NMU anthropology facility director position gives presentation

Jane Wankmiller talks about the process of reconstructing an individual based on skull dimensions at a public forum at Northern Michigan University Tuesday. Wankmiller, who currently works for the Michigan State Police Missing Persons Coordination Unit, is one of several candidates vying for the director of NMU’s Forensic Research Outdoor Station position that is expected to open for the fall semester. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

MARQUETTE — Northern Michigan University on Tuesday hosted the first of several presentations to be given by candidates for the position of director of forensic anthropology at the university’s new Forensic Research Outdoor Station.

Jane Wankmiller — who has a doctorate in anthropology from Michigan State University — presented research findings about burial practices from an archaeological trip to Costa Rica, as well as her perspective on bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology to about 50 members of the law enforcement and academic communities.

Bioarchaeology is the study of human remains from archeological sites. Forensic anthropology is the science in which human remains are studied to determine the cause of death, identify individuals, solve crimes and better understand the complete life cycle.

Wankmiller is currently the unidentified remains coordinator for the Michigan State Police Missing Persons Coordination Unit, and has experience as the medical examiner investigator with the Ingham County Medical Examiner’s office.

Wankmiller also talked about her experiences as a forensic artist, sculpting and sketching unidentified individuals based on facial bone structure.

One motivation to apply for the director position, Wankmiller said, is the innovative nature of the university and its new program.

“I had heard that this facility was coming, that they were going to be building one. This is the only cold weather decomposition research facility in the world,” Wankmiller said.

NMU in December selected a 2.3-acre site located along a wooded bluff off U.S. 41 between the Marquette Branch Prison and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources office, in the vicinity of the Marquette Area Wastewater Treatment Facility.

The land for the facility that will be used in conjunction with the university’s anthropology program is owned by the Michigan Department of Corrections.

The secured outdoor site would be the seventh in the United States and the eighth in the world — and the only cold weather research facility of its type worldwide.

“So it has huge potential for the law enforcement community and the academic community, and that initially brought it onto my radar for sure. And they seem to have an interest in new research. It seems like a great place to be,” Wankmiller said.

NMU is launching an anthropology major that can be used in several fields.

“The proposed major will be in anthropology not forensic anthropology,” according to NMU’s website. “Students will have the option to select a concentration in either forensic anthropology, archaeology or sociocultural anthropology.”

In addition to the outdoor facility, NMU’s program will include an on-campus laboratory, possibly in the proposed NMU Research Institute in the former Lee Hall, and a curated osteological collection.

Alan McEvoy, head of the NMU Sociology and Anthropology Department, said based on a growing public interest in the field of forensics he expects the new program to have a positive impact on the university.

“Based on the enormous public interest in forensic research and crime scene investigation, we expect enrollment to increase with students coming to Northern for courses that revolve around this multidisciplinary program,” said McEvoy.

The FROST director position is expected to be filled by the fall semester.