Things People Ask Me! 1st Edition.

I get really fun and great questions all the time from kids, parents, teachers, folks off the street, my mail delivery guy, friends, family, etc. about the world of anthropology and science, and also my life.

I decided to compile a list of 5 questions that I get pretty often and answer them via the blog! I’ll do this periodically, especially as science conference kicks up and meeting people becomes more frequent. I hope it’s an enjoyable series!

1) Are those real bones?!

I do public engagement events. I’m invited to a school or classroom, and I bring a mobile bone lab that I’ve been slowly building, and talk about anthropology. Sometimes it’s a more general topic overview and other times, very specific. The workshop varies.

In any case, I always bring some specimens with me. No, what I bring is not real human remains. I have some really amazing casts from places like Bones and Clones and The Evolution Store. I also have some practice models from the Anatomical Chart Co.

I do have some animal bones that are real. I acquired those from the trash and butcher shops. I don’t have much of that, and I use them specifically to help discuss context. When I get them, I boil, clean, dry, tag and bag them.

2) How long did it take me to learn this stuff?

I’m still learning and hope to be learning forever. I went to undergrad for culture and media, which was a lot of social and linguistic anthropology type of info. However, my more formal bio and field training has occurred over the last 3 or 4 years. I did some volunteer work in these areas with the Franklin Institute and Smithsonian, too.

So let’s just say about 6 years of formal study in biological anthropology.

3) How do you make money? 

I have job! I’ve actually worked full time while going to school full time for the last 8 or 9 years. It has NOT been easy. I’ve been fairly fortunate to have gotten jobs that offered a fair amount of stability and flexibility. Yet, like many folks, I’m underemployed and underfunded, lol!

I wouldn’t call my day job enjoyable, but it serves its purpose. More importantly, I have the flexibility to focus on my education while I keep a roof over my head.

I also freelance to help make ends meet. I take jobs as a graphic designer, videographer and production assistant when I can. These pay pretty good, so I can do other things like free anthro events for local public schools and pay for school related expenses.

4) Is there money in anthropology?!

People are very concerned with my finances, LOL.

Yes, at least I think so. I’ve used my skills in so many different ways, especially as a freelancer. One of my selling points is that I create culturally contextual design. This is important in marketing, developing branding and corporate/ business culture. I’ve been offered more lucrative jobs in areas like politics and retail anthropology, but it’s not what I want to do. Plus, most of what I have been offered would require me to leave or postpone my schooling.

I have my own professional and academic goals. While I may not be ballin’ outta control, as long as I’m taken care of, I have not yet felt compelled to derail those goals in quest of money or doing things that I don’t want to do. This is a type of luxury, I suppose.

This is actually a pretty complex question, but simple answer, yes. Now, if you’re asking ‘how much money’, we may require a larger discussion.

5) What do dead bodies smell like?

Um, hm. Well. The smell is kind of sickeningly sweet. It’s not something that I can fully describe. It’s rank with notes of chemical, but fruity at the same time. Odoriferous. That’s the word. It’s like you know it when you smell it.

Also, different bodies have different odors. It depends on how long the remains have been decomposing, the environment, how much of the remains are still there, etc. I can’t describe it though.

Dead body smells like dead body.

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Here I am last summer at UTK Forensic Athropology Center (AKA the “body farm”) doing a burial recovery. Up close and personal with dead body smells

Well, that’s it for now! Stay tuned for another installment of ‘Things People Ask Me!’

If you have a question, feel free to leave it in the comments below!

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  • I never understood the description of “dead body smell” until I started volunteering at my university’s zooarchaeology lab. Sickeningly sweet is certainly close.

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