Forensic anthropology is defines as the analysis of skeletal, badly decomposed or otherwise unidentified human remains in both legal and humanitarian context. The primary role of anthropology is to document and process a scene, reconstruct the activities that happened on the scene, provide vital information to aid in the identification of the unknown individual, recover the remains and to reconstruct the manner and cause of the death of an individual.
One of the most prolific forensic of anthropologist of the 20th century and probably of all time is William Marvin Bass. He was born on 30th August 1928 in Staunton, Virginia. Bass mother was Jenny Bass his Father Marvin Bass. He received his undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Virginia in 1951. During his time at the university there was only anthropologist at the university who was in the sociology department. Bass started taking anthropology classes during his junior years. After obtaining his Bachelor degree, Bass did a stint of military work where he worked in the US army as a psychological and anthropological researcher from 1951-1953. During his military service at the height of the Korean conflict, he was able to evaluate units that received grant support this familiarized him with the basics of successful fund-raising. Moreover, it is during this period that he met and married Mary Ann Owen with whom they raised three sons. He later left his duties at the military and embarked on undertaking a master’s degree in counseling at the University of Kentucky. He also took an unusual step from most graduate of his time by adding a minor in anthropology. His great liking for anthropology was unrivalled. It was then that he realized his true calling. After his first semester in the master’s class, Bass decided to switch from counseling and decided to pursue his life-long passion; anthropology.
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At the university, Bass met Dr. Charlie Snow who became his mentor played a critical role in changing his career path. It was Dr. Snow who took him out for his first forensic case. The case involved investigating the remains of a woman who had burnt to death in a truck accident. The scene further cemented his conviction on taking the anthropology career path. On that occasion, Bass doubtlessly knew he was going to dedicate his life to anthropology.
Upon completion of his master’s degree, Bass decided to further his studies and decided to enroll for a Ph.D. program his preference being the University of Pennsylvania. He expressed his great desire to study with Dr. Wilton Krogman who was known to my many as “the bone detective” Although Bass was accepted into Ph.D in Harvard University and Michigan state university He chose Pennsylvania He worked with Dr. Krogman in numerous cases. On their first case, they examined the remains of a young boy brutally murdered and dumped in the Fox Chase area of Philadelphia. Dr. Krogman’s tutorials teaching styles and approach to forensic analysis played a critical role in the shaping of Bass’s research and teaching methods.
Bass profession didn’t begin when he completed his doctorate. He started his profession life at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C where he catalogued the bones of Native Americans. This involved going to South Dakota for several summers and excavating the Indian grounds. Bass used heavy earth moving material during his excavation. This was something novel in the anthropology field. During his short career at the Smithsonian’s, Bass found another mentor; Dale Stewart who taught him the value of careful problem-oriented research, museum collections of human remains and detail analysis.
In 1960, Bass accepted a temporary teaching job at the University of Nebraska. This was however short-term. Later in the year he moved to University of Kansas since here he was offered a better ( an extra $500 to his annual salary) and more long-term academic stability. During his long stay at Kansas for eleven years (1960 – 1971) Bass became quite a strong forensic figure and began mentoring and nurturing growing number of figures in his area of focus. The years proved golden for the students. Bass continued to influence the forensic anthropology through his casework, lecturing, research, teaching and involvement in Academic affair. Moreover, he formed a center forensic anthropology this resulted to an increase in the number of students in skeletal biology and forensics.
Unfortunately, Bass left Kansas for the anthropology department in Tennessee. As head of the Anthropology department , Bass embarked on utilizing his skills as a counselor, teacher and administrator to develop and improve the departmental curriculum During his career at University of Tennessee in Knoxville, he was not only established the forensic anthropology centre, but also Anthropology Research facility. Few would have had this ability to establish such a facility and maintain its efficiency and integrity over time. Toward the late 1970’s, there was a shift towards forensics. This led to the establishment of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in 1972 and the Diplomate certification program of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology in 1978. Bass played a major role in this development as a major consultant.
Bass has made over 200 publications and represents one of the most prolific and productive American physical and forensic anthropologist. His Casework have continued to grow over the years his frequent consultation with the University of Nebraska and Pennsylvania grew to enormous caseloads at Tennessee and Kansas. The twenty two year career span (1971-1993) Bass reported on over 500 cases. His case load grew from an average of 7.2 cases annually in the 70’s and early 80’s to an average of over 45 cases annually in the 90’s. This is attributed to more experience and improved technology in the anthropology field. Most of these forensic casebooks related mostly to local forensic questions. They also included military and civilian mass disaster situations since at he had previously served as a consultant for U.S Air Force Mortuary Services at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, Army Central Identification Lab at Honolulu in the Hawaii Islands, the Armed Forces Department of Pathology in Washington D.C and the Department of Defense.
Bass is a renowned lecturer. He is recognized as a public speaker and an outstanding teacher. He thoroughly knew the subject matter and was apt in presenting the subject matter in an interesting and entertaining manner. It was therefore no coincidence that his introductory anthropology lectures often had over 1000 students and as a speaker he was always in demand. Forensic groups have become routine recipient of his speaking skills and lectures. This has led to the increased exposure of the non- anthropology community to the vital contributions of the forensic anthropology. Bass offers numerous lectures to training sessions and law enforcement associations throughout the United States. Teaching is part of his accomplishments as it is through his teaching approach that students are deeply involved in his research, casework and publications. His publications records, caseload and numerous forensic attributes have continued to be impressive.
Bass publication influence is evident across all anthropology fields. Most students who have studied osteology since 1971 have continued to use Bass book Human Osteology, A laboratory and Field Manual as a book of reference. His loving personality, sense of humor and optimist attitude has continued to influence and inspire high scores . Extemporary quality students HAVE been produced over the years of his academic service. This further asserts Bass skills and prowess as a public speaker and a teacher. Bass student legacy in the forensic anthropology was evident in a survey undertaken by Rhine. In Rhine survey, out of 129 forensic practicing anthropology twenty indicated that Bass was their principal adviser. Bass scored the highest among the sixty five listed advisers.
William Bass is described by many as the founding father of forensic anthropology his in-depth research particularly in relation the study of human decomposition. Bass established the “Body Farm” in the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility to further the understanding human body decomposition. Detailed observation and records process were kept this recorded the sequence, speed of the decomposition and insect activity and effects. This created a good platform for police forensic investigators who sought his services in the event of homicides involving dead bodies. The FBI also sent agents for courses excavation and clandestine grave discovery. His finding has provided crucial understanding of the human decomposition and has continued to be used by forensic investigators in the United States and across the globe.
William Bass work in the years has left a legacy as he has continued to be a source of inspiration to many in the anthropology field. His publications and casebooks have also been used by students and researchers a like as a point of reference. Over the years, William Bass has continued to receive numerous awards and accolades from organizations, groups and associations. In 2011, the University of Tennessee dedicated its building and named it “the New William M Bass Anthropology Forensic Building this was done in honor of the world-renown forensic anthropologist. In 1985 Bass was honored with “Professor of the Year” award by the National Council for Advancement and Support of Education. During his tenure as head of Anthropology department in University, he was able to obtain numerous grants and funds that were deemed vital for the department. William Bass is currently eighty four, but besides his old age he still continuous to offer talks and mentorship to many. His contribution to anthropology cannot be overlooked or refuted. He has author and co-author numerous books over the years his books include; Beyond the Body Farm: A Legendary Bone Detective Explores Murders, Mysteries, and the Revolution in Forensic Science, Death’s Acre: Inside the Legendary “Body Farm”, Human Osteology: A Laboratory and Field Manual among many other publications. Throughout the years, Bass publications have continued to shape the field of anthropology as we know it.