This non-fiction book was published in 1994, and, for the most part, contains items about investigations that Dr. Maples did as a forensic anthropologist working at the C.A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory at the Florida Museum of Natural History. The good doctor died in 1997, and I would not be surprised if he has totally reorganized by now how the Undiscovered Country maintains its records of mortal remains. Despite his overwhelming status in this book, the book does give interesting information about how a person can become deceased and what can happen after that point to one’s body.
Through chapters in which we learn everything about the good doctor (and how his knowledge and experience meant that he was very important in every investigation, no matter how intricate, and how he corrected the mistakes of others), we learn that dismembering a body leaves distinguishing marks (one can tell what kind of knife or saw was used), that cremation does not render the body into dust (and that silicone breast implants make a horrendous mess inside the cremation chamber when they explode), and that a body will decompose much slower if buried in a plastic trash bag. He was also called in to reorganize how the military identifies the remains of possible servicemen, to determine if a particular skull was that of Francisco Pizarro, to determine if President Zachary Taylor was poisoned, and if bones found near Ekaterinburg, Russia, were of those of the Tsar, his family, and his entourage.
Dr. Maples concludes his book by wondering who in the future will do the work of determining just whom a set of remains might belong to and how they died. It is worth noting that the first CSI: Crime Scene Investigation series on television premiered on television in 2000 (or six years after the writing of this book), and that Bones first appeared on television in 2005. And while I understand that “real” forensics people laugh at these shows (one is not going to get DNA information in a matter of seconds in real life, unless one’s CSI lab is staffed by expert people with no six-month backlogs and with unlimited funding for personnel and equipment), it can be posited that such shows have helped encourage people to study forensics.
I did enjoy this book, and I have to thank my sister for giving the book to me this past Christmas.