Alumna Builds Career Around Studying Bones

Fingerprints get a lot of credit in the forensics world, but Brittany Walter, ’12MA, knows bones tell a story, too.

Inspired from a young age by a forensic anthropology series written by Kathy Reichs, Walter traces her passion for forensics all the way back to middle school. Today she uses that passion as a full-time forensic anthropologist identifying the remains of service members for the Department of Defense at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. She’s also training the next generation of scientists as a part-time lecturer at the University of Nebraska, and a consultant for the state archaeologist and law enforcement agencies in Nebraska.

“We can gain a lot information from human skeletal remains. Biological anthropologists can estimate sex, age, and how tall a person was. We can identify past injuries and pathological conditions and use all of this information to answer questions about disease in the past or to identify unknown remains.”

In her role with the DoD, Walter, who completed her doctorate at the University of South Carolina, reunites families with the recovered remains of service members who died from past conflicts. She recounts meeting the sister of a World War II casualty who had lost hope of saying goodbye to her brother. Walter contributed to his identification based on chest radiograph analysis last year.

“Not many people realize that our chests, like fingerprints, are unique to us and can be used as a method of identification for unknown human remains,” Walter said.

Walter is adamant about not pigeon-holing herself in her academic career. That’s why when she came to UCF for her Masters of Arts in Anthropology in 2010, she included bioarcheology to her focus in forensic anthropology.

“While my first love is forensic anthropology, I wanted to explore different fields when I came to UCF. Biological anthropology is a multifaceted field, including everything from forensics to primates,” said Walter.

Walter worked closely with Drs. Tosha Dupras, Sandra Wheeler, Lana Williams and John Schultz of the Department of Anthropology during her time here, and still works with them on research projects today.

“I was doing my forensic anthropology work with Schultz and assisted him in casework for the Medical Examiner’s Office,” said Walter. “With Dupras, Wheeler and Williams, I was able to visit Egypt and work with them on assessing pathological conditions on ancient skeletal remains.”

Walter is grateful for her connection with the faculty at UCF who continually support her and encourage her — even after graduating.

“I wouldn’t have gotten into the Ph.D. program at University of South Carolina without the help of the professors I met at UCF. Through them, I gained incredible experience that I am still applying to my line of work every single day. I couldn’t be more grateful,” said Walter.

The views presented here do not reflect the views of the Department of Defense or its components.


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