The Man with the Briefcase

man and briefcaseAt the Canadian Museum of Nature it is not unusual to see people walking around with packs, boxes, and briefcases. Because there are about 200 people working at the museum who regularly have visitors, it is not unusual to see people walking about that we do not know. Some of the visitors want a discrete, quiet visit. Questions come to us from many sources, including the police. People stumble across bits and pieces all the time and they bring them to us, usually thinking they are valuable or at least extremely curious or rare. When someone stumbles across one of those bits that might be a human, a man with a briefcase might show up at our front door. The first question that needs an answer is, “human or not?” The museum has experts on anatomy for many of the 70,000 species that live in Canada and the 1.75 million others from around the globe. We also have a large library of bones, prepared and carefully stored skeletons from most of the vertebrate creatures of Canada (the osteology collection). When the man with the briefcase arrives with a specimen for us to study, we are in a strong position to answer, “yes” or “no” to that first important question in the forensic process. If the answer is, “no”, we use the collection to put a finer point on it. Something like, “no, it is not human, but part of the humerus (upper arm bone) from Canis lupus familiarus (the family dog).”  The briefcase closes and the man quietly takes his leave.

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