Forensic anthropology team investigating human remains found in Somerset County
CONEMAUGH TOWNSHIP -- For several hours, Pennsylvania State Police canvassed the woods along Ligonier Pike in Conemaugh Township, Somerset County.
But they weren't alone in their efforts. A specialized recovery team from Mercyhurst University in Erie was called in to assist after two skulls were found by hunters.
Two faculty members and a dozen graduate students in the masters of anthropology program responded.
They have experience dealing with outdoor scenes with human remains.
Dr. Dennis Dirkmaat leads that team. He's the chair of the Applied Forensic Sciences department at Mercyhurst and a board certified forensic anthropologist.
"Our job is to try to reconstruct the past events of that scene, what happened there,” Dirkmaat said. “Not only who these individuals are and maybe provide some evidence as to how they died, but also where they were positioned and how they were positioned when they were deposited on the scene."
The team first cleared the scene of leaf litter to make sure they found all the evidence, any potential clothing or biological tissue.
The main scene where the two skulls were found was only about 20 yards back from the road.
"In this case, the remains were not all together,” Dirkmaat said. “Some were scattered off into the woods, so we have to try to figure out whether that is human activity or animal activity or something else."
With help from state police, they created a hand-drawn map of the scene to show where everything was located.
"The process for those seven or eight hours was documenting the scene very carefully, much as the police would do at an indoor scene,” Dirkmaat said. “So we just do it outdoors in what we call forensic archeology."
While Dirkmaat couldn't get into specifics from Saturday’s scene, he did explain the process moving forward.
"Determining the age and sex and stature and ancestry from the remains and also looking at any broken bones and what that says about the trauma and if there's anything related to the death, like stab wounds or gunshots or anything like that, we have to analyze carefully,” Dirkmaat said.
The team from Mercyhurst was focused on the recovery of all the elements.
The next step is taking everything into the laboratory and analyzing the biological profile.
Those results will take a couple of weeks.
A news conference with state police is scheduled for Monday at 11 a.m.