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“Law & Order: NYU” or “CSI: NYU”?

August 23, 2013

Bones1Cropped

Bones found near the Washington Mews appear to be the remains of an equine toe. 

Viewers of the now-defunct television series “Law & Order” are undoubtedly familiar with the show’s mythical “Hudson University.” The institution offered a seemingly endless supply of victims, suspects, and witnesses—but, if memory serves, never any forensics experts.

That changed—in the real world, at least—earlier this week at NYU.

Office of Public Affairs, W. 4th Street, 2:25 p.m.*
A call comes in from NYU’s facilities management team—Con-Ed has been digging under the street on University Place, just outside the Silver School of Social Work. The workers have found some bones—they could be human or from a large animal. NYPD is on the scene.

University Place at Waverly, 2:41 p.m.
A handful of NYPD officers are gathered. Con-Ed employees mill about—perplexed, but in good humor, filling the air with Jimmy Hoffa jokes. Meanwhile, anthropologists at New York City’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner contact an NYU colleague--anthropologist Susan Antón--to collect the remains.

University Place at Waverly, 2:47 p.m.
NYU Office of Public Safety’s leadership and NYPD 6th precinct chiefs arrive. The mystery: Are the bones human, which would necessitate an investigation, or animal, which would bring a rapid close to the case.

How to best make a quick determination on the matter?

Solution: Rather than sending directly to the city’s medical examiner, use the nearby NYU Department of Anthropology, whose faculty include physical anthropologists Antón and Scott Williams, who run the department’s graduate program in skeletal biology and forensic anthropology. 

Bones2

Physical anthropologists Susan Antón and Scott Williams investigate the findings. 

University Place at Waverly, 2:50 p.m. 
Antón and Williams arrive to what is now a large gathering of onlookers to examine and bag the remains. 

Bones3

NYU faculty were called in to collect the remains.

Their immediate assessment: it’s a horse, of course, pointing to what they identify as parts of a leg among the bones.

Antón and Williams’ conclusion is bolstered by an onlooker’s recollection of the history of Washington Mews—situated a few yards from the discovery: many of its buildings served as small-scale horse stables for nearby townhouses.

University Place at Waverly, 3:11 p.m.
Case closed—thanks to NYU’s faculty forensic anthropology team.

--James Devitt

*Times of the aforementioned occurrences are to the best of the author’s recollection.

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