Search for more bones continues

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 21, 2011

NATCHEZ — An anthropology team from the University of Southern Mississippi will hopefully be able to help identify a skull, three vertebrae and six rib bone pieces found in Adams County near the Franklin County line last week.

Anthropology professor Marie Danforth and four students joined Adams County Coroner James Lee and Adams County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Ricky Stevens in a search for more bones in the area where the other bones were found.

A logger discovered the first evidence of human remains Feb. 14 when he picked up a human skull near Sandy Creek Road off of Old Highway 84 No 3.

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Since last Monday, sheriff’s office investigators and search and rescue teams have uncovered six pieces of rib bone, three vertebrae and what appears to be a sock within 100 yards of where the skull was found.

Danforth confirmed the ASCO’s conclusion that the skull contained an entrance and exit gunshot wound.

Danforth and the students searched on their hands and knees with gardening and anthropology tools Sunday morning until 2:45 p.m., looking for more bones that could provide a larger insight into the identity of the remains.

The jaw and area below the ears is mostly deteriorated from the skull, leaving no opportunity to identify it based on dental records.

No additional bones were found at Sunday’s search.

Danforth said pelvic, femur or jawbones would provide the most useful information for identification.

Those bones can be indicators of gender and age. In addition, Lee said “long bones,” such as the femur, are the best bones to perform DNA testing by extracting bone marrow.

It is not impossible, but less feasible, to test DNA from the skull, rib and vertebrae that are available, Lee said.

DNA can also be extracted from teeth cavity pulp, Lee said.

Danforth said there is a variety of information she can take from the bones to which they now have access, however.

By measuring the suture joints of the cranium, an approximate age of the person can probably be determined, Danforth said.

“It’s a rough indicator,” Danforth said of sutures, which fuse closer together as humans age.

She said the top remaining portion of the nasal area might help determine the ethnicity.

Finding the pelvis would be the most ideal, though, she said.

“If we only find the pelvis, that’s the biggest indicator,” she said.

Danforth said without performing some tests, she cannot be specific about how long the remains have been sitting beneath the leaves and brush near Sandy Creek Road.

“At the least, (the remains have been there) many, many months; and years at the most,” she said.

She said determining how long the remains have been in the woods depends on factors such as level of exposure encountered.

Holding a porous-looking vertebra in her hand, she said evidence shows animals had scavenged the bone.

Danforth said her graduate students get a chance to search and study remains in real-time investigations approximately twice a year on average.

“(The students) are happy to have the experience and also to use their training to help the community,” Danforth said.

Lee said with the help of the USM anthropology department, he should be able to narrow down some key identity factors within two weeks or less.

“It may not be a comprehensive report, but a partial report to some direction as far as identifying the gender, age and ethnicity,” Lee said.

He said search teams would continue to look for more remains to assist in diagnostic testing.