Finding new 9/11 victims

By Anna Sandiford 22/04/2010

Forensic anthropologists and archaeologists have been sifting through 611 cubic metres (21,600 cubic feet) of material from the World Trade Centre bombings and have found twenty potential remains from humans. This is not, of course, the same as saying the remains of twenty people have been found. These remains were not discovered at the actual site of the WTC towers but at the unfortunately named Fresh Kills Landfill. I really think they should have changed the name a looong time ago. The location was used to sort through rubble from the attack sites and the current investigation is planned to last three months.

Many of the victims of the disaster were, unfortunately, vapourised or crushed beyond recognition, which is why DNA scrapings were taken from the surfaces of buildings that survived the blasts but still many hundreds of people remain “missing”, i.e. no evidence of them has been identified.  Bone fragments were still being found around the site in 2007, six years after the initial event.

As I’ve said before, this kind of work is not pretty, it’s something that people forget has to be done and it’s done by people who don’t often receive any recognition for it, they just do it. “Unsung heroes” is corny and maybe it’s not directly applicable because it’s not dangerous work in the sense that they’re not present at the time of physical danger but forensic specialists like these can help bring an end to the event for the families of those who are still missing – and that has to make it all worthwhile.

For people considering a career in forensic anthropology and archaeology, these are exactly the sorts of situations where your skills would be applied. Perhaps not on something so high profile, but victims of mass disaster or even murder are everywhere and they all have a story to tell. It’s about finding them and then telling the story for them. Fascinating, but draining work.