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Anthropology students lend hands, expertise to help Edinburg police
Posted: 03/08/2013
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Anthropology students from The University of Texas-Pan American got some valuable hands-on experience in archeological fieldwork March 2 while helping the City of Edinburg police department and a local family establish closure on a two-year old missing person case.

Anthropology students and faculty used sifters built by the Edinburg Police Department to help conduct their search.
The students and faculty from the Anthropology Program spent the day at Edinburg's Fire and Police Training Facility searching through several mounds of dirt for additional skeletal remains of Eleazar Delgado, a 59-year old Edinburg resident who was reported missing in June 2010.

The dirt was excavated from a drainage ditch on South Raul Longoria Road, where, in July 2012 city workers found a portion of a human skull and some bone fragments. The fragments were sent to be evaluated and just recently identified through DNA samples from siblings as partial remains of Delgado.

"They are being a tremendous help," said Edinburg Police Department Lt. Oscar Trevino, who along with a number of other officers, patrolled what is considered the "crime scene" during the search. "The reasons we are out here are one, to recover any other skeletal remains and send them for analysis to help us to determine if there was any foul play involved in the death, and second, we want to turn them over to the family as complete as possible. That way they can have complete closure and give him (Delgado) the proper burial he deserves."

The police decided to call upon the University for their expertise in archeological investigation to examine the secondary dirt and were connected with Dr. Thomas Pozorski, UTPA professor of anthropology. Pozorski arranged to have more than 20 Anthropology Club students, some graduate students and other faculty members participate in the search.

The department supplied the workers with tarps, shovels and several sifting screens they built to help the workers recover any other skeletal remains, clothing, shoes or any other articles belonging to Delgado.

The task was an exciting opportunity for Gerardo Salinas, a Pan Am freshman from Edinburg majoring in anthropology. "This is what I am looking to do in my future job. I plan on majoring in anthropology and getting a Ph.D. in forensic anthropology," said Salinas, who was working with a group of students examining dirt spread out on plastic tarps. "So far, we haven't found much, just shells and a few animal bones. But this is a really good chance to get a taste of what my future will be like. And I'm liking it so far."

During the daylong search March 2, approximately 35 anthropology undergraduate and graduate students from UTPA gained hands-on fieldwork experience by helping the Edinburg Police Department to examine dirt brought from a site where the partial remains of an Edinburg missing person was found last summer.
Before the day was over, the students located an approximate 3-inch by 2-inch portion of a human sacrum, a triangular bone at the base of the spine. They also found a very small portion of an arm bone and a couple of other smaller human bones. All will be analyzed again by a forensic pathologist to determine if they are from Delgado and if they provide any more clues related to the cause of death.

"This is a really good opportunity for our students to give back to the community and for our anthropology undergraduate and graduate students to come out into the field and do one of the things that anthropologists and archeologists do," said Dr. Russell Skowronek, a UTPA archeologist and professor. "We often help law enforcement in crime scene investigations doing specifically this and is one of the reasons why learning human osteology (the scientific study of bones) is so important."

Skowronek said with the approval of the new university, he hopes that the anthropology program could be expanded to include a forensic anthropologist and an osteology lab on campus, providing students additional learning opportunities. Forensic investigations of materials from crime scenes could also be done locally rather than be sent to a university elsewhere in the state for evaluation, he said.

"All this is possible with additional funding," said Skowronek, who heads UTPA's Community Historical Archaeology Project with Schools (CHAPS), an interdisciplinary program designed to engage students and the community to become more aware of their local cultural and natural history.

One of two area high school students and anthropology enthusiasts helping out in the search participated in a CHAPS project exploring local history while in middle school. Now a junior at BETA, Emmy Garcia plans to major in anthropology at UTPA when she graduates next year. She said this is her second excavation-like experience and she enjoys what is involved.

"Just getting down and dirty ... and you get excited when you find something," she said.

Anthropology Club supplies officer Miguel Gutierrez, a double major in anthropology and history, said it's always good to have the chance to do hands-on training.

"It's one thing to be in class, answer the questions, read the book and learn ... it's a completely different experience to be on the field and doing things first-hand," he said. "It's also great for the Police Department to trust us with this responsibility."

To learn more about the UTPA anthropology program go their website. Go the CHAPS website to learn more about that program. Click here to see a photo gallery of the day.