Sunday, January 8, 2012

Karen Burns

We’re all mourning the unexpected passing of our good friend and colleague Karen Burns.  Her work as TIGHAR’s chief physical anthropologist on the Earhart Project was among the least of her contributions to humanity; what was really inspiring about Kar, to me at least, was her human rights work.  She made a career of forensic anthropology – sometimes with financial support, sometimes without – on cases of genocide in places like Iraq, Guatamala, Haiti and Colombia, and on terrorism and disaster cases like the 9/11/01 attack on the World Trade Center.  Not only did she do the excavations and analyses (often very unpleasant and not infrequently dangerous) to identify victims and determine how they died; she also delivered the testimony needed in court to seek justice for them and their families, and retribution for those responsible.  Perhaps most important, she taught the people of the countries in which she worked to carry out their own forensic studies, building a cadre of indigenous experts whose very existence should give pause to those contemplating genocide.  Her work on pure research cases – not only the Earhart case but also the identification of Revolutionary War hero Kazimierz Pulaski’s bones in Savannah, Georgia – was of the highest quality as well,  and as a colleague and shipmate on trips to Nikumaroro, she gained the respect and affection of us all – TIGHARs and ship’s crew alike.  We will all miss her greatly.

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