For many of us, the only experience we have behind the scenes of a crime is what we see on television.

But what happens on crime dramas is very different in reality.

When a body is found, forensic anthropologists get the call.

Students at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax are getting hands-on experience with the recovery process of human remains.

“It’s very methodical and systematic way of processing a scene,” describes forensic anthropologist Meaghan Huculak. “It’s very time consuming, It’s not something that rushed at all.” 

No real body at their crime scene, but it’s all set up just like a real investigation.

“This is a scaled down version of what a scene may actually look like from an aerial perspective,” explains criminology major Julie Kidson. “We have this outer perimeter where the public has to remain.”

Once a forensic anthropologist has mapped out the designated crime area, they clear a path to the area of interest.

Walking paths are marked with yellow tape, having a clear path allows the anthropologists to reach the crime scene, but before clearing and marking the path it must first be searched for evidence.

“If you come across something that could be evidence, you just raise your hand the line director would put a flag down and then record,” explains anthropology major Alice Hebb.

“Which would entail putting a scale down, a plaque to mark the exhibit and then she would take a photograph of the item.”

“Once we get to a closer proximity to our burial site, we will set up an outer perimeter designated as a pink outline,” describes Kidson.

After the area of interest is marked anthropologists go to work carefully, digging through the dirt for evidence and remains.

It’s an eye opener for those visiting, learning exactly what happens beyond the yellow tape.

“We’d like to notify the public and show the public,” says Huculak. “CSI, what you see on TV, CSI or Bones, it’s completely different, it’s not reality.”

Forensic anthropologists at Saint Mary’s don’t carry guns or interview suspects.

They work as part of a team to search an area for evidence or identity bodies in a lab.

Unlike television, it also takes much longer than an hour to process a crime scene before solving the mystery.

This is a one-of-a-kind course in the Maritimes, but because jobs in the area are scarce, most of these students will move onto other fields, having only been given a taste of the real CSI experience.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Matt Woodman.