I was reading a small item in the paper last week when a dingdong went off in my brain and I went searching through my huge file under the inspiring title of "Blog Fodder". I knew the article I wanted was there, after all I'd just spent a day going through the pages, throwing out anything I'd lost interest in or technology had raced by it.
What started my 'Indianna' search was reading that New York city officials are still cleaning up debris from the World Trade Centre. They had another 560 cubic metres of material including some found after the demolition of the former Deutsche Bank Building. Since 2006, the remains of 34 additional victims have been identified, mostly from DNA analysis.
I had kept an interview from 2008 given by anthropologist Professor Richard Gould. His wife was working near the Twin Towers on the day of the planes and three weeks after the towers came down Richard Gould, walked to Ground Zero. In the grey ashy residue lying everywhere in lower Manhatten, he found fragmented human remains even a piece of human scapula.
He realized then that remains would be found a great distance away. He wrote and pestered those in charge to listen to him and go further afield but already the washing down hoses were at work and he knew what was being lost.
In 2002 he was finally invited by the medical examiner's office to do a trial excavation outside Ground Zero and this was the start of his Forensic Archaeology Recovery Group, a team of volunteers who help recover human remains after disasters.
Work was finally stopped at Ground Zero early March, 2008 but human remains were still being found way outside the immediate area. Paper containing human blood stains was found in Brooklyn, several miles from Manhatten. Professor Gould thinks they will still be finding material for years as it works its way underground even now remains have been found in underground pipes.
Nearly 3000 lives were lost but around 1,100 to 1,200 people remained unidentified in 2008 but in 2013, victims identified have gone up to 1,634. Disaster archaeology is an outgrowth of archaeology, using the same methods to find and identify remains of recent disasters as they do find physical data of ancient disasters. The team cleans up the human remains and physical effects left behind so they can be identified for forensic and legal purposes. The team must record exactly where, when and how they were found as this is important for the court proceedings following any disaster. Their archaeological skills such as surveying, site recording, sieving material and DNA collection are all important as is their ability to work as a team. This team ethic is important for their mental health, recovering humans remains will never be easy, it's stressful and counsellors are often needed.
One man's good idea has helped survivors of many disasters over the years.