The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Training and Empowerment in Forensic Anthropology on an International Level: How the Life’s Work of Dr. Karen Ramey Burns Has Inspired Training in Colombia


International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP)-Colombia

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While Dr. Karen Ramey Burns’ body of work was extensive, ranging from testifying as an expert witness in court to mass disaster victim identification to bioarchaeological histories of notable figures, perhaps she undertook her most challenging project towards the end of her life: working as a Fulbright Scholar for the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. As part of this position, she taught courses, mentored students, and served a key role in the development of the non-governmental organization, EQUITAS, a group dedicated to helping the victims of Colombia’s ongoing internal conflict via ensuring that forensic anthropological methods used by government agencies are correct. Colombia has innumerous problems with regards to the practice of forensic anthropology: anthropologists are often ill-trained (many have a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology alone) and grossly underpaid; field conditions are dangerous, as many graves are located in areas where illegal groups still operate; and the proper resources necessary for field and lab work are often not available or somehow fall through the cracks when most needed. Dr. Burns had been in Colombia for just over a year when this author moved to that country to serve as an anthropology advisor to provide training. Her impact on the field was immediately apparent, as all the anthropologists knew who she was and those who were fortunate enough to have had a class with her were the most technically knowledgeable. Her lasting influence will be discussed as to how current training provided by this author has been impacted.

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