Bags of Bones – a research update

It’s been a while since I posted about our research project on scavenged and scattered remains. What’s going on?

Last year’s sites:

Bags of bones!
  • The sites in the Edmonton and Calgary areas were left for about a year. Through July and August of this year, we revisited each and collected the remains, the flags, and generally cleaned up the sites.
  • I took pictures and videos of each site that will hopefully provide helpful insight into the vegetative changes of each site, and provide some information on what remains were found where.
  • I’m now going through bags of bones and doing an inventory for each site. (Ah, cataloguing! I’m getting flashbacks to my field school days.) Aside: why do I use paper bags instead of plastic ones? Bone is porous and can retain water. Bone needs to breathe; it can’t do that in plastic. If you need to store bone for any amount of time, use a breathable medium like paper. If you use plastic and revisit your bone after a time, you may only find mush awaiting you!
  • I hope to create some nifty videos of each site showing the changes over the year as well as the pattern of any remains dispersal.
Shari & Tony (Conservation Officer) looking at photos during a preliminary search, October 7.

This year’s sites:

  • This year, we placed pig carcasses at sites in the Edmonton and Calgary areas, as well as near Lethbridge, in western Saskatchewan and eastern British Columbia.
  • All carcasses were placed in June – August 2022. As with last year’s study, we hope to keep these out for a year to lend better evidentiary support to patterns of remains dispersal for cases that are at least a year old.
  • This year we added one video camera at each site and at least one tracker on each pig.
  • Some preliminary searches have been completed (Aug – Sept). Some still need to be done.
  • We’ve had some unexpected things happen with one of the Lethbridge sites. Within the first couple of weeks, resident cows had moved the camera so we couldn’t see the carcass or the site. As we required the landowner to accompany us on site, it was difficult to readjust the camera in a timely manner. In addition, the landowner was under the impression the study was only a couple months long. We need to clean-up the site quickly. This site will likely be excluded from our overall results.
  • The Saskatchewan site preliminary search was done by law enforcement in the area as Shari and I couldn’t make it.
  • Preliminary searching of the BC sites was performed by the local team.
  • Shari and the team did the preliminary search on the Calgary sites because I was sick (oh, so sick). I missed some excitement! There’d been quite a few bears at these sites (see some below), so we needed to ensure the search team would be safe whilst searching. The HWCS helicopter was engaged to flush-out and scare away any bears and our law enforcement team members were fully armed.

Here are some short clips from the video cameras at the Calgary area sites (this is why the helicopter and firearms were required during the preliminary search!):

Black bear and cubs at the Nanton Open site September, 22, 2022.
Grizzly bear at Nanton Open site September 3, 2022.
Grizzly bear at Nanton Closed site August 16, 2022.

What’s next?

  • We still need to visit the Edmonton sites and do the preliminary searches.
  • Now that I have all the data (remains, maps, photos) from last year’s sites, I need to crunch it. What does this mean? I need to organize, compare, analyse the data to see if there are any patterns in the dispersal of the remains across different sites, through time, etc. Do I know what I’ll find? Nope. I’ll let you know what I do.

Stay tuned!

For background on this research study, check out my previous posts “The Smell of Dead Pig in the Morning“.

In the meantime, don’t forget to check out my podcast Scattered. Recent topics have veered towards talking about the next of kin and what’s involved with the search and recovery of remains of people who have died during a war. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Play.

Do you have a suggestion about a topic or person for the podcast? Let me know. I’m always open to exploring!

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