It’s part CSI, part anthropology.
Researchers in an emerging field called biohistory are trying to get to the bottom of mysteries that span centuries.
What killed Mozart? Has King Richard III’s body been found?
Scientists at ASU’s Center for Bioarchaeological Research are at the forefront of the field.
ASU Regents’ Professor Jane Bukstra is credited with coining the term “biohistory” in a forensic context. ASU Professor Christopher Stojanowski just published a book on the topic called "Studies in Forensic Biohistory: Anthropological Perspectives."
Put simply, biohistory is the effort to understand famous lives from biological remains.
Stojanowski got his first biohistory case in 2003 from the Catholic Church. He was asked to confirm the identity of a skull that was thought to belong to a priest under consideration for sainthood.
Stojanowski said just one tooth can reveal a lot; the individual’s sex, approximate age at death, and provide clues about their ancestry. The plaque on their teeth can be tested for isotopes that can reveal things about their diet and where they lived.
And of course, scientists can extract DNA from a tooth to compare to known relatives.
Bones can also show evidence of disease, which raises a host of ethical questions scientists are now grappling with.
“If there are descendants of that individual and people are looking at some genetic condition, there are potential privacy issues with doing that,” Stojanowski said. “There’s privacy concerns for the person. People take things to the grave. There’s some secrets they don’t want known.”
Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.