ASRI Core Competency

Medical and forensic scientist Jihad Muhammad is at work in a field laboratory recording ontology data from an enslaved African's skull recovered during an ASRI Burial Grounds Preservation Program.
Medical and forensic scientist Jihad Muhammad is at work in a field laboratory recording ontology data from an enslaved African’s skull recovered during an ASRI Burial Grounds Preservation Program.

As its name suggests, ASRI is dedicated to scientific research. Much of its work falls into a general area of study known as bio-history. There are many different definitions of bio-history, but basically, it refers to the study of the interrelationships of plants, animals, and man in the history of culture and human development. Bio-historical research encompasses numerous academic fields, including the natural sciences, the humanities, social sciences and applied sciences, such as agriculture and medicine. In fact, many of the researchers employed by ASRI are internationally recognized experts in their particular disciplines.

The research conducted by ASRI is generally related to one of four key activities:

Identifying African American progenitors — An ASRI investigation often begins at a gravesite. Using archaeological techniques, human remains are removed and returned to the lab for analysis. There, scientists use a variety of techniques to glean as much information as possible.Osteologists, for example, study bones to determine the sex, age and growth patterns of an individual. DNA testing also reveals a genetic profile that can be used to determine lines of descent.

Forensic reconstruction — Next, scientists work to put flesh on unearthed skeletons. They use CT scans to generate three-dimensional images of the skull or long bones. Data from these scans is turned into digitized files that can be manipulated on a computer or synthetically reproduced via a process called rapid prototyping. Once a bone or whole set of bones exists digitally, researchers layer on muscles and skin to reconstruct what a person would have looked like. ASRI scientists have reconstructed the faces of numerous African slaves and abolitionists in this way, making it easier for African Americans alive today to identify with their past.

Historic reconstruction — What ASRI does for individuals it also does for structures and buildings. The process of depicting a non-surviving building or object for the purpose of replicating its appearance at a specific period of time and in its original location is known as historic reconstruction. ASRI scientists use many of the same tools, such as CT scans and laser analysis, to collect the data they need to rebuild the architectural components that would have played a role in the lives of African pioneers.

Rural planning — Finally, if ASRI is to be successful in helping African American communities become self-sustainable through tourism, it must facilitate the urban planning process. Unlike some planners who fail to seek the needs and wants of community members, ASRI planners are careful to involve residents and business owners at every step. They conduct interviews to understand the unique history of the area and implement surveys to collect data that can be used in the planning process.

Volunteers may participate in any or all of these activities, depending on their skills and interests. In the next section, we’ll review the requirements that must be met by ASRI volunteers.