“The bones tell their story, if we but listen.”
“Nothing is more rewarding that getting a phone call saying that the work of myself and my students has allowed a family closure after many years of suffering. It makes all the long hours and hard work worthwhile.”
For more than a decade, until the turn of the last century, UTM’s Professor Jerry Melbye received a phone call if a skeleton was found under suspicious circumstances.
The first half of Melbye’s career was similar to many professors at UTM. It was a balancing act of publishing, teaching and mentoring graduate students. An enthusiastic and popular professor, he was known for groan-worthy jokes and difficult final exams. His expertise in human skeletal remains, however, became an asset in the late 1980’s as forensic science recently emerged in law enforcement. Melbye’s focus quickly expanded from the classroom to the morgue with his audience changing from undergraduates to police officers.
As he became more and more immersed in the topic, he quickly saw an opportunity to align forensic anthropology consulting with forensic anthropology as a discipline. Soon thereafter, the first program of its kind was born.
The undergraduate program at UTM flourished. It was as competitive and prestigious as many other science-based disciplines at the time. Some students jockeyed to become the next “Dr. Bones.” Others saw it for what it was – a rigorous academic program where the sky was the limit. Because of its newness, journal articles were scarce and subject matter experts even more so.
“I sometimes saw myself in my forensic science students,” said Melbye, who passed away March 4, 2017. “They were unique in that their minds were interested in so many different things. And the program was full of different avenues they could explore. Almost ironically, this potential for academic discovery was perhaps more appealing to my graduate students than finishing their PhDs.”
Today, forensic anthropology is firmly established in the mainstream of academia. Countless cases have passed through the hands of those who graduated from the same forensic science program born at UTM.
Had the Ontario government not required mandatory retirement in 2001, Melbye would have remained at U of T Mississauga. Instead, he was hired at Texas State University--San Marcos, where he developed a 26-acre outdoor human decomposition research facility—a “body farm” —which is still the largest facility of its kind in the world.
Melbye served as a diplomate of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, a fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Science and a forensic expert for The National Institute of Justice's National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs).
Certificate of Appreciation from the Premier of Quebec, Philippe Couillard, for forensic analysis and identification of comingled human remains of the Lac Mégantic train disaster, July 2013. Dr. Melbye’s role as a Certified Forensic Anthropologist was to assist one of his former students and lead forensic anthropologist, Renee Kosalka, to attempt to identify the 47 victims of the explosion. 42 victims were positively identified and returned to their loved ones.
Eve Cockburn Mentorship Award, Paleopathology Association, 2013, awarded for outstanding mentorship activities. The Eve Cockburn Mentorship Award is given for outstanding mentorship activities by a Paleopathology Association member.
Melbye, J. 1994. A massacre and possible cannibalism in the Canadian Arctic: New evidence from the Saunaktuk Site (NgTn-1). Arctic Anthropology 31: 55-77. (Melbye and Fairgrieve) A Study of Violence in the Canadian Arctic.
Melbye, J. 1985. Stable isotopes in human skeletons of southern Ontario: reconstructing paleodiet. Journal of Archaeological Science 12:187-206. (Authors: Schwarcz, Melbye, Katzenberg, and Knyf) The diet of Native populations in pre-French times was based on corn agriculture constituting 50 per cent of the diet.
Melbye, J. 1982. Advances in the contribution of physical anthropology to archaeology in Canada. Canadian Journal of Archaeology 6:55-64. A history of skeletal analyses from the time of Confederation to modern times.