How’d you spend your summer?
It’s a question asked frequently on campus this time of year. For Anthropology Professor Craig Goralski, his time was spent under the blistering San Bernardino as part of an effort to identify some 700 unknown people in unmarked graves — some of them more than a century old. The effort is part of the San Bernardino County Unidentified Persons Project, co-directed by Goralski and Alexis Gray, a San Bernardino County Sheriff Department forensic anthropologist. The pair has turned the site into a field school where students “excavate burials in forensic contexts, perform preliminary analysis of the remains and help collect remains to send for further laboratory analysis before documenting and reburying the remains,” according to the project’s website.
Goralski and Gray were featured by Gizmodo’s Alissa Walker in an August 18 article titled “The Coldest Case: Using DNA to Identify Century-Old Remains“:
Today, four groups are clustered beneath bright blue tents that provide much-needed shade for their worksites. They’ll each access and analyze a single grave today, a painstaking process due to the nature of an indigent, county-funded burial: Most “coffins,” if you can even call them that, were made from pressboard and have completely deteriorated. Some, due to 1,000 pounds of soil pressing down upon them over a century, have collapsed into their occupants, shattering critical bones. It’s delicate work, and Gray’s program partner, anthropologist Dr. Craig Goralski, walks me through it.
The students begin with shovels. About two or three feet down, they’ll tap against wood—whatever fragments of the coffin exist, which are lifted off and placed to the side. Then they move to trowels, then chopsticks, then brushes, to ensure that they don’t damage the bodies. They dust off and photograph the remains. Then comes the critical moment: Measuring the bones for clues of age, sex, and ancestry. This is how they’ll know if they’ve dug up the correct John or Jane Doe.
At Cypress College, Goralski teaches ANTH 231 – Field Course in Archaeology. The curriculum includes the survey and excavation of archaeological sites. His efforts off campus also include assisting law enforcement agencies solve murder cases. He completed his doctoral dissertation in Anthropology at Penn State University examining patterns of pottery production and exchange among the Lenca and Maya in Late Formative Period (400 BC – AD 250) Honduras.