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2010 News Releases

Longwood professor serves as technical adviser for episode of forensic science TV show

January 26, 2010

Dr. Jim Jordan, professor of anthropology and sociology, was a technical adviser for the episode of Bones that will air Thursday, Jan. 28, at 8 p.m. on the Fox network Dr. Jim Jordan, professor of anthropology and sociology, was a technical adviser for the episode of Bones that will air Thursday, Jan. 28, at 8 p.m. on the Fox network

A TV show based on forensic science turned to a Longwood University faculty member to get its technical details right in an upcoming episode.

Dr. Jim Jordan, professor of anthropology and sociology, was a technical adviser for the episode of Bones that will air Thursday, Jan. 28, at 8 p.m. on the Fox network. His younger daughter, Dr. Katie Jordan Goff, assistant professor of biology at Ferrum College, also was a technical adviser for the episode, titled "The Dentist in the Ditch." The elder Jordan shared his expertise on techniques of archaeological analysis, the younger Jordan on forensic anthropology.

"Our job was to help make this believable on the screen," said Jordan.

Jordan and his daughter were contacted this past summer by Pat Charles, the writer of the episode, who was given their names and told of their expertise by Stanley Spry, a Prince Edward County High School graduate who is now involved in film production in California.

"I talked on the phone with Pat six or seven times a month, for about 30 minutes each time, from August 2009 until the end of October," Jordan said. "Also, at his request, I sent him slides and photographs of bones found at archaeological sites, since he wanted to know the color of bones when they come out of the ground. I spent about 50 hours talking on the phone with him and doing research in the library or my office to answer a question.

"He would ask questions like 'If a body was in a car trunk and still had flesh and hair on the head, and the trunk was slammed on the head, would that cause a fracture? What would the fracture look like? Five or 10 years later, would you be able to tell if there was a fracture caused by that? If a body is exposed on the ground, what would happen to the bones? Would they be destroyed by weather? Would they be water-logged? Are there diseases human beings could get that would cause holes that look like bullet holes?' Basically, he wanted to know what happens to bones that get exposed on the ground, and what the telltale signs of diseases or accidental traumatic injuries are.

"One tough question was 'If a body is on the ground, like in a shallow grave or ditch, and the ground freezes and thaws, and freezes and thaws, what would it do to the bones? I finally found the chapter in the book that lists that word, cryoturbation, which is the degrading effects of freezing and thawing on bones and teeth. The result is that it pulverizes the bone, reducing it to very small fragments. I was able to answer all of his questions, but there were plenty of questions some days I couldn't answer that day on the phone until I had done my research.

"He and Katie spoke for about the same amount of time, both by phone and through email. When he spoke with her, he wanted to know things such as 'What are the characteristics or qualities of human bones? Are they spongy? If a body is buried in a ditch, could things happen to the body that would be confusing to someone analyzing it?'"

In May 2009 Dr. Katie Jordan Goff taught a three-week course for Ferrum College in forensic anthropology at the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility, better known as the "Body Farm," where various experiments are performed on donated corpses. "The experiments are done by graduate students training to be forensic pathologists," her father said. "At the Body Farm, Dr. Goff and her students worked in the laboratory of Dr. Bill Bass, the Farm's founder and perhaps the best known forensic anthropologist in the world. His work on the processes of decomposition of the human body under various environmental conditions is employed by archaeologists and forensic scientists worldwide today."

Bones, now in its fifth season, is a one-hour crime drama series "based on forensic science, with each episode focusing on an FBI case file concerning the mystery behind human remains  brought by FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth to the forensic anthropology team of Dr. Temperance 'Bones' Brennan," according to Wikipedia. "The show is based very loosely on the life of forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, who is a producer on the show." Two of the show's regular characters are forensic pathologists, Jordan said.

"I started watching the show after my students mentioned it in class all the time," he said. "As soon as I bring the skeleton into my Intro to Anthropology class every semester, they raise their hands and ask 'Have you watched the TV show Bones?'"

The Jordans received DVDs of the show's third and fourth seasons, a poster, photos, and souvenirs bearing the Bones logo: a coffee cup, a pen shaped like a bone, and a T-shirt. "They said Katie and I were really helpful, which made us feel good. Sometimes Pat would tell me 'You always understand what I'm looking for, and so does Katie.'"

He also received a letter from Charles in October thanking him for his help. "Your expertise and the incredible stories you shared were incredibly helpful in guiding us as we developed this mystery," Charles wrote to Jordan. "Your anecdotes about Civil War bodies, red clay, floral turbation, silica phytolith, etc. were excellent and we hope we did them justice. It was a pleasure working with you and I look forward to doing it again...Thank you for your help, your expertise and your graciousness."

In a phone interview, Charles echoed his praise of his two technical advisers. "I can't say enough about Dr. Jordan and Katie," he said. "Both were very knowledgeable and very specific in their assistance. They were a huge help."

Asked for specifics about this episode, Charles said the "majority of the investigation" in the episode takes place in Virginia. The rest of the action takes place in Maryland and in Washington, D.C., since that's where FBI headquarters is located, Charles added.

Jordan is both curious and a little nervous about the Jan. 28 episode, of which a 30-second video clip is available on YouTube. "We haven't seen the script, and we have no idea about the storyline, the plot," he said. "About all I know is that filming began in December. I was very impressed that the script writers worked so hard to make this realistic."

"I hope this episode is exciting because my students will be watching! I hope my students like it, because they'll certainly tell me if they don't like it. They might even mention that in my annual course evaluations!"