Biological Science in Dr. William Maple's Dead Research Paper

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Biological Science in Dr. William Maple's Dead Men Do Tell Tales

Biology literally translates from the ancient Greek as "the study of life." Generally, when people think of biology and biologists they imagine studying the way plants grow, and discovering what makes animal bodies react and in many ways behave the way they do. In essence, the literal translation and the basic conception of biology both regard things in their living state, still observably full of potential for growth and change. It is also true that most biologists' and other practitioners of Biological sciences' work involves living specimens, and even more the knowledge gained from such studies is usually applied to living individuals and populations of species. It might seem strange, then, to find any aspect of biology applied to studies that purely involve death and the already dead. Even more strange is the idea that biology can shed light on people that have died decades or even centuries ago. But the field of forensic anthropology does exactly this, and Dr. William Maple is one of its most prominent practitioners.

In his book Dead Men Do Tel Tales, Dr. Maples details his education and his career in the field of forensic anthropology. This branch of biological and anthropological sciences deals with people who died -- in unexplained and often violent ways, even murder -- and forensic anthropologists piece together the details of their deaths in an attempt to explain them. Dr. Maples worked on many prominent cases of past deaths, including Czar Nicholas II of Russia and his family, and President Zachary Taylor. In fact, much of Dead Men Tell No Tales details the personal details of Maples' career more than it goes into the actual science of forensic anthropology. But he also provides an excellent basic knowledge of how he goes about doing his job, pairing the details of a long-quiet crime scene with biological knowledge to determine the causes of death and possibly even details about the murder or murderers -- solving crimes with science.

After a brief mention of some of the gory details that consumed much of his life's work, Dr. Maples leaves such things behind for a bit to discuss the general science of anthropology, and even the basics of science itself. It was the search for true objective and observable truth that drew Maples to anthropology, and this is at the heart of all of the sciences. He goes on to detail some of the specifics of his early introduction into anthropology in Africa, dealing with baboons and trapping them for further research into primate behavior.

This illustrates how important behavior is in both biology and anthropology. Common notions of these sciences often focus on the microscopic happenings inside living bodies. But often the various behaviors exhibited by humans and other animals are far more important in developing an understanding of biological mechanisms and the differences between species. It took a careful understanding of baboon behavior to first make them confident around the traps before Maples and the other researchers were able to capture any (Maples, 16).

It is not until the second chapter of the book that Maples really gets into some of the scientific details of forensic anthropology. The first human case he discusses is that of a skull found tied to a rock at the bottom of a lake. There are differences in the shape of one's skull based on their ethnicity, and this helped he and his instructor Tom McKern to identify the skull as being Japanese in origin (Maples, 21). This is only one of the most basic facts that can be gleaned from a skull, and Maples mentions his lack of skill in this regard at this point in his career. Further practice and study, however, immersed him fully in the scientific details of his profession.

Forensic anthropology relies on much of the same knowledge as medicine, and one of the early cases Dr. Maples details required medical investigation not only to determine a cause of death, but also to identify the victim two years after he had died. It seems almost impossible that the pathology of a disease would be noticeable this long after a death occurred, but the particular disease that this man had ate away at the bone of his skull, making it easy for Maples -- with a little research -- to diagnose the disease (Maples, 26). This also led to an explanation for why this human skeleton was found "moldering" in a swamp; the disease that ate away at the man's skull also would have caused mental issues including impaired motor function and symptoms similar to dementia as it progressed. These details, coupled with the fact that those who live with this disease untreated exude a noxious odor from the infection in their heads, made it easy to confirm the identity of the skeleton (Maple, 27).

This does not reveal any large pieces of scientific information, or deliver any basic knowledge about the processes of biology, anthropology, or medicine, but it does show new applications of science. Knowledge is rarely useful in and of itself; it must be applied to a direct and specific object in the present, even when it is dealing with things in the past, in order for it to have any utility and relevance. Forensic anthropology, though in existence for the better part of a century, is still very new. It is not so much a science itself as it is a new application for existing sciences, especially biology. But as the case of the skeleton in the swamp clearly shows, scientific knowledge is absolutely essential to the practice of forensic anthropology. This is only one example of the reliance made by Dr. Maples on biological knowledge.

Forensic anthropology also depends a great deal on physics and, in some cases, on psychology. Sometimes it can even lead to discoveries regarding other crimes, and solve other murders almost by accident. This is exactly what occurred when Dr. Maples was called in to identify a set of charred remains found in a car in an apparent (and, as it turned out, actual) suicide. A combination of many factors, including the heat of the fire and the position of the burnt bones, had to be taken into account to determine exactly when and how the multiple deaths at the scene occurred (Maples, 155). It also turned out that there had been, according to a suicide note left at the scene, a revenge plot against one of the victim's parents. Because of Dr. Maples' ability to determine the identities of the bodies at his scene, police were able to put together the full scenario of several murders and a suicide that had occurred. Maples ability to extract as much information as he did from burnt bones is built on years of careful study and practice, and the minutest physical and chemical details must be noted to solve a case.

Again, the number of different scientific techniques that must be employed in the effective practice of forensic anthropology are overwhelming. X-rays and plaster molds of victims teeth and dental work are one of the most well-known ways in which forensic anthropologists can identify a body, especially if it has been otherwise disfigured. Certain types of dental work can even reveal countries of origin, and can approximate the age of an individual. With these facts in place, it becomes clear that a basic knowledge of social sciences is also important in using forensic anthropology. Neither physics, psychology, nor a knowledge of basic elements of society can compare with pure biological knowledge in this field, however.

One prime example of this comes from establishing the age and gender of an unidentified bone or skeleton. Throughout Dead Men Do Tell Tales, Dr. Maples provides many specific examples… [END OF PREVIEW]

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