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Dr. William M. Bass

For more than three decades, the University of Tennessee has been accepting a special kind of donations in the name of anthropological research.

The Anthropology Research Facility at UT Knoxville, better known as the “Body Farm”, has both fascinated and educated law enforcement agents and anthropology students since receiving its first body donation in 1987.

The Body Farm is part of the Forensic Anthropology Center at UT Knoxville, and is designed to permit the “systematic study of human decomposition,” according to UT.

Cadavers are routinely provided to the 2-acre Body Farm from myriad donors, according to its website. There are currently over 1,800 individuals being used for study, with approximately 100 new donations each year.

There is also a pre-donor program for people who wish to have their remains donated to science after their death. The pre-donor program has “well over 4,000 individuals,” according to UT.

Approximately 50 percent of the Body Farm’s annual donations are considered “family donations.” These donations are made by the families of deceased individuals who have not pre-registered for donation prior to their death.

On March 11, the students of Tullahoma High School (THS) and the community at large will get their chance to learn about the famed farm from the founder himself.

According to criminal justice teacher Jason Kennedy, Dr. William Bass, the creator of the Body Farm at UT Knoxville, will be headed to Tullahoma to educate his students and the community all about his world-famous anthropology project.

Kenney said he was excited to have “the Michael Jordan of forensic science” come to Tullahoma and give his students an overview of the Body Farm and how it’s utilized in the field of criminal justice and forensic science.

“I’ve heard him twice and loved it,” he said, “and I think it would be great for the kids to experience this also.”

Bass will be giving an in-school lecture on the history of the Body Farm to students in both the criminal justice classes and in science classes in general, Kennedy said, in order to allow any students who might be interested in going into science-related or criminal justice careers.

Students from other schools will also be joining in on the discussion, Kennedy added.

“There’s actually some other schools from other districts that are coming,” he said. Students from four schools in three counties were expected to join the Tullahoma students during the classroom lecture, including Siegel High School and Stewart’s Creek High School in Rutherford County, Grundy County High School and Coffee County Central High School.

Having a forensic science legend come to town will be both an exciting and educational experience for all students, Kennedy said.

“It’s a great opportunity for them,” he said. “It’s just the significance of saying, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard him live,’ or even just getting one of his books signed and getting a picture with him. It’s something that’s huge.”

It’s not just Kennedy who’s excited to see Dr. Bass, either.

Madison Smith, who currently sits as the vice president of the criminal justice club at THS, said she was looking forward to hearing what Bass has to say.

“I’m really excited to hear what he has to say about it,” she said.

Madison hadn’t heard about the Body Farm prior to taking her criminal justice classes, but after watching some documentaries about the facility during a lesson on decomposition of bodies in crime scenes, the facility “seemed pretty cool.”

“We touched [on the topic] in class a couple times, but I’m interested to hear the person who founded it,” she said.

Another student who was interested in learning about the history of the Body Farm was Matthew Ross. Unlike Madison, he had heard of the Body Farm before, though mostly in the form of spooky myths and ghost stories.

“I had heard some weird stories about it being under the UT football stadium and horror stories of people seeing weird ghosts on the field during the nighttime,” he said with a laugh.

After being in class, however, he’s since learned the truth about the location of the Body Farm – it isn’t located directly underneath the football field inside Neyland Stadium.

“Yes, that it not true,” he said, “which is definitely a good thing.”

Having previous notions about the Body Farm dispelled, Matthew said he was looking forward to learning about the history of the facility and how it’s used.

Having the man who founded the entire program come to town, he said, was “probably one of the coolest things.”

“I feel like I might understand what the Body Farm is all about,” Matthew said. “Right now I just know that they store dead bodies, but I’ll probably learn what they actually use them for.”

 

Public event

Although the lecture during the school day will be just for students and teachers, Kennedy said Bass will also stick around town long enough to give a second, public talk for the people of the community at large.

After the students have gone home for the day, the THS auditorium will host any community member who wishes to hear Bass speak about the Body Farm and his work.

The public event is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on the same day as the student lecture, March 11.

The lecture is free to attend, though students in the THS Criminal Justice Club will be accepting donations as a fundraiser for the club.

According to Kennedy, anyone wishing to donate to the club will be helping the club travel to criminal justice competitions.

For more information on Bass, visit his website at bonezones.com. For more information on the Body Farm, visit fac.utk.edu.

Erin McCullough may be reached at emccullough@tullahomanews.com.