Beyond the Body Farm: A Legendary Bone Detective Explores Murders, Mysteries, and the Revolution in Forensic Science

Beyond the Body Farm: A Legendary Bone Detective Explores Murders, Mysteries, and the Revolution in Forensic Science

by Bill Bass, Jon Jefferson


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A pioneer in forensic anthropology, Dr. Bill Bass created the world's first laboratory dedicated to the study of human decomposition—three acres on a hillside in Tennessee where human bodies are left to the elements. His research has revolutionized forensic science, but during a career that has spanned half a century, Bass and his work have ranged far beyond the gates of the "Body Farm."

In this riveting book, the renowned bone sleuth explores the rise of modern forensic science and takes readers deep into the real world of crime scene investigation. Beyond the Body Farm is an extraordinary journey through some of the most fascinating investigations of Dr. Bass's career—and a remarkable look at the high-tech science used to crack the most perplexing cases.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060875282
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/11/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 141,948
Product dimensions: 5.32(w) x 7.94(h) x 0.82(d)

About the Author

Dr. Bill Bass is a world-renowned forensic anthropologist, the founder of the University of Tennessee's "Body Farm," and the author of more than two hundred scientific publications.

Jon Jefferson's work has appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek, USA Today, and Popular Science. Together, writing as "Jefferson Bass," they have coauthored the novels Carved in Bone, Flesh and Bone, and The Devil's Bones.

Read an Excerpt

Beyond the Body Farm
A Legendary Bone Detective Explores Murders, Mysteries, and the Revolution in Forensic Science

Chapter One

The golden bowl, the burning palace: applying modern science to ancient bones

As fans of the television series CSI know, death scenes can capture a wealth of detail about what happens in the instant when human life is snuffed out—even, I can say with certainty, when that instant occurred nearly three thousand years ago.

More than four decades ago and six thousand miles away, I had one of my most memorable experiences in applying the tools of archaeology and anthropology to the questions of forensic science. The death scene lay in the ancient hilltop citadel of Hasanlu, in northwestern Iran, where a fierce army attacked the massive fortress, breached its mighty walls, and brought down its palace and temple in a rain of blood and fire. Hundreds had died in the battle and the blaze, but I was focusing on three of the dead, who were unearthed in a particularly dramatic discovery in the ruins.

Midway through the project, though, I began to fear that a fourth death might soon be involved: my own. As I lay doubled over, delirious for days on end, my circumstances may have been less heroic than those of the ancient warriors whose bones had drawn me here, but the setting—the way of life, the nearness of death, even the practice of medicine—had changed little in the twenty-eight centuries since the fortress fell.

In the summer of 1964, at age thirty-five, I was an eager assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas at Lawrence. Although the ink on my Ph.D.from the University of Pennsylvania had been dry for only three years, by that time I'd excavated more skeletons than almost any other anthropologist in America. Starting in 1957, the summer after I entered graduate school at Penn, I'd worked for the Smithsonian Institution, which was excavating numerous Native American village sites throughout the Missouri River Basin. The Army Corps of Engineers was building a string of dams along the Missouri; the river's waters were rising; and the Smithsonian was racing to unearth and preserve as many relics and bones as possible before the sites were inundated forever. My first summer in the Missouri Basin, my crew and I painstakingly located and excavated several dozen Arikara Indian graves; by 1963, after I'd devised a way to use road-grading equipment to peel back the earth atop the graves without damaging the bones within, we were excavating several hundred each summer. I got so fast and efficient at excavating burial grounds that I eventually earned the label "Indian grave robber number one" from a Native American activist who disapproved of digging up Indian graves. (This chapter in my career is told in more detail in my memoir, Death's Acre, published in 2003.)

So although I was still relatively young in 1964, I'd racked up some unique and extensive experience, and it didn't come as a total surprise when I got a call from Bob Dyson, an up-and-coming archaeologist back at Penn, seeking help excavating ancient graves at Hasanlu. Millions of people are familiar with the work of Egyptologist Howard Carter, the British archaeologist who discovered the tomb of King Tut. Far fewer are acquainted with Bob Dyson's work, and that's a shame, because Bob was the Howard Carter of Hasanlu. Six years before inviting me to Iran, when he was a mere thirty-one years old, Bob made the discovery of a lifetime at Hasanlu. Beneath a mound of rubble and charred embers in the wreckage of an immense two-story palace or temple, he found the skeletal remains of three men trapped—crushed—when the burning roof collapsed and the massive walls toppled. As the debris was carefully brushed from the buried bones, it became clear that the three men had died while at a dead run, literally, their arms and legs frozen in perpetual near-motion. It was a remarkable snapshot of death, preserved for nearly three millennia.

Even more remarkable—and a key reason Bob invited me to Hasanlu—was the object cradled in the arms of the front runner. The object was a bowl (or a vase, or a beaker): a metal vessel measuring about eight inches high, seven inches across the top, and six inches across the base. The falling walls had flattened the bowl, of course, along with the guy carrying it. Even so, the bowl's elaborate ornamentation remained virtually intact and astonishingly detailed. An upper scene, enacted by a band of embossed figures encircling the bowl, showed three young men bringing offerings to the gods—two gods riding in chariots, and a third god wearing a horned headdress. The bowl's lower ring contained a series of smaller scenes and numerous figures, including a nude goddess, a male hunter or warrior, an eagle carrying a woman, another woman riding a lion, and a trio of people—a seated man, a woman, and a child, whom the woman is presenting to the man. The bowl was such an extraordinary find that Life magazine devoted an eleven-page spread to it—the equivalent, back then, of a one-hour television special hosted by Katie Couric or Diane Sawyer.

Despite its relatively small size, the bowl was quite heavy. That's because it was made of solid gold. Today—carefully guarded in a museum in Tehran—the bowl is one of Iran's richest archaeological treasures. Three millennia ago it was equally prized, occupying a sacred place in the citadel's palace or temple—as valuable as a freshly carved or painted masterpiece by Michelangelo would have been to a Renaissance pope or a Medici prince. Three men, at least, had died for the bowl's sake—caught for all time in a dramatic act of desperation.

By the time Bob Dyson called me in early 1964, millions of Life readers had marveled at the bowl's intricate beauty. But the question that still hung in the air, across all the centuries since the citadel's gates were breached, the roof caught fire, and the walls collapsed, was this: Who were these three men, and . . .

Beyond the Body Farm
A Legendary Bone Detective Explores Murders, Mysteries, and the Revolution in Forensic Science
. Copyright © by Bill Bass. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Beyond the Body Farm 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
Minyassa More than 1 year ago
I love forensic case histories and explanations, and found quite a few thoroughly outlined in this book. It was a bonus to find that Dr. Bass has a great sense of humor, and while some might find his wit slightly morbid I never found it overblown, inappropriate or disrespectful. The material is interesting and unexaggerated; one does not get the sense that things are blown out of proportion as can be the case with some true-crime forensic shockers. This book whetted my appetite for more like it.
VikingBerserker More than 1 year ago
If you are interested in forensics, this is a must! The book is nothing short of excellent. It's very entertaining, well written with wit thrown in. I could not put this book down until I finished. I look forward to more works by the author (HINT HINT).
LoveSanta More than 1 year ago
This book is not like the books with the main character of Dr. Brockton. This book is about the writer of Dr. Brockton's character and the work he himself has done as a forensic pathologist. Dr. Bill Bass will do forensic cases and as a reader you will enter into his world and follow him as he does the actual work. The reader has to like forensics to both understand what he is doing and be ready for the gory things that go along with this line of work. The book is fascinating and a great read. Dr. Bass has a way of making these gory things interesting and you find yourself getting caught up in the cases he presents in the book. I highly recommend this book for anyone who watches shows like CSI to get an idea of what it is really like.
JgleJne More than 1 year ago
I liked reading this book since i am into forensic was very informational and fun to read for me
harstan More than 1 year ago
With two body farm novels (see FLESH AND BONE and CARVED IN BONE) and an account of his forensic anthropological work (see DEATH¿S ACRE), Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson provide a sort of autobiographical account of the former¿s work in Kansas and more so in Tennessee where he created the first ¿living¿ forensic research lab. Dr. Bass gives credit to his instructor five decades ago Dr. Krogman, known as the ¿Bone Detective¿ who got him interested in the unnamed at that time field of forensic anthropology. He also credits Patricia Cornwell with her novel THE BODY FARM for making him famous and his type of work acceptable amidst the public without Ms. Cornwell there is no CSI on TV. However, the fascinating segments of the book are the cases over the last fifty years that run the gamut from the Big Bopper to the wrongly identified corpse to a fireworks factory explosion to ancient Persia to solving modern day cases for local police departments. It is these cases and how he and his team solved them by shaking and tossing of the bones that makes for a fine CSI read with Harry Houdini appearing as a star performer in a future exhumation. --- Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
Beyond the Body Farm by gifted writer Bill Bass is a forensic play-ground of murder and mayhem. A book you don't want to miss! These writers sure know their stuff! Highly Recommended!
shelleyraec on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another fascinating book.
BrynDahlquis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very good book on real-life forensic science.
BunnyCates on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was definitely and interesting read. Reading exactly how my cousin died broke my heart, and I really wish they hadn't put the photos in of her. Im sure that is just a personal reaction though and has no bearing on the readability of this book.The book promises an in depth look at the beginning of forensics, and it delivers just that. Definitely interesting.
kanata on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure if I found this book quite simple and a rehash of tried and true stories because I'm a fan of this genre or because it simply is indeed a repeat of relatively commonly known material. [author: Bill Bass] is the creator of the "Body Farm" and the forensic science that has spurred on countless authors like [author: Patricia Cornwell], [author: Kathy Reichs], countless CSI t.v. spin offs, so it is interesting to hear his experiences on the subject. Yet I found this book a tad boring and the author comes across as a bit egotistical (watch him know all things; list all the people he has taught; the brilliant ideas he has). It was a decent afternoon's reading but nothing to get too excited about.
the_awesome_opossum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In this age of CSI, everybody loves forensics when it's used in puzzling, unorthodox investigations. Beyond the Body Farm is more of the same. It was written by Bill Bass, a leader in forensics and the creator of the famous Body Farm at the University of Tennessee. He writes about a dozen of his most interesting cases, the myriad tools and unusual approaches he has had to take over the years. He writes for an audience that has maybe a passing understanding of forensics (again, probably from CSI) and all of his stories are fascinating. Bass can go off on tangents sometimes, and he gets a little bit repetitive in some of his explanations, but stil a really interesting book.
MissConstantReader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While this novel is very informative and entertaining, I can't help but notice from the little comments here and there in the novel: this guy is a racist! And it's not from the section which describes in detail the difference between the 3 master races.
Bookmarque on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A decent casebook with a non-sensational bent to it. Seems that most people in this line of work automatically showcase their most TV-moment-worthy cases and their solitary brilliance in bringing a case to conclusion. Instead, Bass focuses on teamwork and emerging technology that made previously dead end cases resolvable. The tone is nicely self-depracatory while not letting us forget his unifying presence. Dr. Bass is more modest and has a dry sense of humor as well. An enjoyable read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great for anyone interested in forensic. The cases were fascinating.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awesome book for fans of forensic science.
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Fascinating if you're into this sort of thing...which I am! Avoid if you are squeamish.
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