CANTON Shortly after lunch, students in a St. Lawrence University class hacked, sawed and bludgeoned fetal pig carcasses Friday afternoon but they werent doing it in the name of any esoteric deity.
Instead, the students, members of Mindy C. Pitres forensic anthropology class, were trying to determine the effect of trauma on the decomposition of the pigs.
By studying the state of decomposition, information can be gleaned on the time and nature of a bodys death.
A lot of times anthropologists dont just get skeletons; we get bodies in various stages of decomposition, Ms. Pitre said. Bones and bodies can also help scientists identify long-dead people.
Thanks to network television shows such as the popular CSI series, forensic anthropology has become a popular subject these days.
Ian Weller, an anthropology sophomore, said he wants to become a forensic anthropologist after he graduates.
I used to say I wanted to be a police officer, he said. I like it because it is helping out with law enforcement, and it is really interesting.
Aside from a control pig, left untouched, each animal was damaged in different ways. One pig, given the tongue-in-cheek name Hatchet Hank, was given wounds to the leg and abdomen using an axe. Another, Suzie Saw, was given similar wounds with a hand saw. Mallet Marsha was struck twice with a hammer, and Trauma Tom was wounded using all three instruments.
Mr. Pitre explained that the experiment was designed by her class.
We developed the experiment together, she said. We put research methods within our courses. It is a lot of experiential learning. All the things that students were thinking of, like what will happen to pigs will scavengers take them? They had to consider all of that before reaching this point.
Erika Davin, an anthropology senior, took down measurements and information about each pig on a blackboard as others shouted them across the laboratory.
Im not really creeped out by this, Ms. Davin said. It is a forensic anthropology class and it is all about getting hands-on experience.
Each pig, donated by Serenity Acres Farm in Ogdensburg, died of natural causes.
Students came up with a schedule of when they are visiting, what kind of data they are going to take, she said. They are keeping what we call decomposition diaries. They will be taking and making observations of the changes of the pigs.
The five pigs will be left in the woods within chicken-wire cages until Nov. 28, where they will experience the north countrys fluctuating late summer and autumn temperatures. Ms. Pitre said the environment affects the rate of decomposition. A body in Miami, Fla., for example, might decompose faster than a body in Canton or Potsdam because of differences in heat and humidity.
You can do this in every area because there are micro climates that affect decomposition, Ms. Pitre said. In every environment you would want to know how fast things decompose.
The experiment is based on the work of the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility, sometimes called the Body Farm, which studies the decomposition of human remains.
Ms. Pitre acknowledged that most of her students, unlike Mr. Weller, wont want to become forensic anthropologists after they graduate.
There are skills that they are picking up that can be translated to other fields, she said. Whether or not they are going to be forensic anthropologists, this is a liberal arts college; students have time before they have to make a decision on what they want to be.