Anthropologist learns about life through human bones

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Suzanne Abel, Ph.D, says the realities of her job are far different than the forensic anthropologists featured on television programs.

"It's nothing like that.  They have these lab shots and it's this green backlit lab.  This is a lab," she said, referring to her modest room located inside the Charleston County Coroner's Office.

Abel is the forensic anthropologist within the department.  She is tasked with making identifying determinations about skeletal remains.

"You take a lot of measurements," she says.  "Usually over 150 measurements and then we use statistical software to help us determine stature, sex, and race."

Abel also determines such factors by closely examining the bones.  She says she can pinpoint sex and race by a skull or pelvis.

"You have to handle the bones, you're looking for trauma … and little things you can't see but sometimes you can feel," she says.

Sometimes, the bones can speak volumes on the final moments of a person's life.

"I can say there's a bullet wound that has not healed and there's no sign of infection, so this probably gives you a suggestion of what happened at or around the time of death to help the coroner in their identification," she says.

Earlier today, the Charleston County Coroner's Office confirmed that the remains found by boaters on Drum Island last weekend are from a human's jaw bone.

Abel says it might be a week or more before information can be gleaned from the remains.

"You really have to take your time," she says.  "you can't be rushed when you're working on skeletal remains."

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