Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Lecture by the men who identified the remains of Confederate sailors aboard the CSS H. L. Hunley


By Marge Hoskin
January 11, 2005

The most popular show on television these days is "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" where forensic "experts" use science and technology to investigate and establish facts for courts of law.

Personally, I still prefer to watch and listen to Connecticut's favorite forensic sleuth, state Archaeologist Nick Bellantoni, who returns to the Quiet Corner Thursday.

He'll speak to members of the Learning in Retirement Program at Quinebaug Valley Community College in Danielson.

Unlike CSI's experts, Bellantoni, an expert on bones, usually deals with remains that have been buried 50 years or more. During his lecture, he will share research, findings and artifacts from excavations in historic cemeteries and police investigations of unmarked human burials uncovered during construction projects.

Bellantoni is based at the Connecticut Museum of Natural History and Archaeology Center at the University of Connecticut. Eventually, the center will include a working lab and exhibit space, and be the public link to the largest known collection of state archaeological sites and artifacts, according to Carol Davidge, museum spokeswoman.

Forensics fans also can meet Bellantoni at 2 p.m. Jan. 29 at Smith Middle School in Glastonbury for a lecture by one of the nation's best known, forensic anthropologists, Dr. Douglas Owsley of the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution.

Owsley, who has been called upon by the FBI and CIA to examine thousands of human skeletons, including those at the Pentagon after Sept. 11, identified remains of Confederate sailors aboard the CSS H. L. Hunley, the Civil War submarine raised from the waters of Charleston Harbor.

The submarine contained the nametag of Pvt. Ezra Chamberlin of Killingly. For information, call 486-4460.

Those of us who had difficulty using a microscope in science lab can't help but admire forensic experts who use photography, ground-penetrating radar, Global Positioning Systems and other technologies at the site of remains, then head for the lab to examine bones under magnification, look for trauma or disease and use X-ray imaging, DNA analysis and other techniques.

Bellantoni admits to watching just one episode of CSI. The show bears little resemblance to the real world, he said. "Within five or ten minutes, they have everything figured out. It doesn't work like that, and DNA isn't the answer to everything."

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