Bone to be wild: Fleshing out a career devoted to skeletons and people

By Carol Clark | eScienceCommons | May 21, 2013

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Armelagos, left, with student Alan Goodman in 1982 at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Dennis Van Gerven was flattered when George Armelagos handed him a human femur bone from a burnt-out crime scene and asked him to take it home for analysis. The two anthropologists were in Philadelphia for a conference and a criminal investigator had sought Armelagos’ expertise in piecing together details about dead people by studying their bones.

As Armelagos went through the airport security checkpoint, he turned to Van Gerven, who was next in line, and said loudly, “Be sure and tell them that your wife was alive when you saw her last.”

Then he kept walking, leaving Van Gerven to face the security agent alone.

“My bag goes through the X-ray and you can see this bone in my suitcase,” Van Gerven recalls. “The agent asked, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘It’s a bone.’ He said, ‘Oh,” and lets me go through.”

The story was one of many recounted during a day-long session devoted to the research, mentorship and mischief of Armelagos at the recent annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. The session, entitled “Bone to Be Wild,” drew dozens of students and colleagues to Knoxville to celebrate Armelagos’ ongoing career of 50 years.

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