Every Friday, we choose an alum who has been making headlines—for better or for worse.
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Gary Aronsen ’04PhD: After SuperStorm Sandy, sifting skeletons on the New Haven Green.

Faithful readers of the Yale Alumni Magazine know that the New Haven Green is a historic burial ground. Is—not was: the headstones are gone, but an estimated 5,000 bodies are still buried there.

Make that 5,000 minus two.

On Tuesday, locals in the know were just beginning to mourn the loss of the giant Lincoln Oak—planted on the Green in 1909 in memory of Abraham Lincoln and toppled by SuperStorm Sandy—when a passerby noticed something odd in the tree’s exposed root ball: a human skull. Teeth, ribs, and other human remains were also tangled up in the dirt and roots.

Police called in experts, including Gary Aronsen ’04PhD, manager of the Yale Biological Anthropology Laboratories. Under searchlights and a tent in the Tuesday evening rain, they sifted through dirt and artifacts as a curious crowd looked on. By Wednesday—Halloween—they determined that the bones belonged to at least two people and probably dated from the eighteenth century. Aronsen, who investigated a quadruple burial at a Yale–New Haven Hospital construction site last year, hopes to ascertain the ages and sexes of the Lincoln Oak skeletons, as well as how they died.

The spooky storm sequelae made international news. But for Aronsen, it’s all in a day’s work. His e-mail signature quotes Henry Miller: “The world dies over and over again, but the skeleton always gets up and walks.”

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