California State University, Chico
While the Camp Fire raged in the area around Chico State in November 2019, no one was thinking yet about what would arguably become the most difficult part of recovery: locating and identifying the remains of those whose lives the fire had claimed. Eric J. Bartelink, Ph.D., professor of anthropology and co-director of the Human Identification Laboratory (HIL), was among the first to arrive in the scorched rural foothill communities to start this sobering effort.
Dr. Bartelink, who teaches biological anthropology and forensic science to both undergraduate and graduate students, assisted Chico State’s team in recovering the human remains of those lost in the Camp Fire. His work and that of other Chico State faculty, staff and students gave immeasurable peace and closure to family and friends of those who perished. The work, says Bartelink, also gave first-year graduate students not just a chance to help their community in a time of great need, but more experience in the field than many professionals have.
Bartelink’s own research is on the use of stable isotopes as a forensic tool for predicting the region of origin of an unidentified person, meaning where they were born or have recently traveled—work that has helped to advance human identification methods and resolve cold cases. Every year, Chico State’s Human Identification Laboratory works on more than 100 cases and recoveries.
Before coming to Chico State in January 2006, Bartelink assisted with mass grave excavations in Bosnia-Herzegovina for the United Nations as well as the World Trade Center victim identification effort in New York City in 2002 and 2003.
Bartelink earned his bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Central Michigan University, his master’s in anthropology from Chico State and his doctorate in anthropology from Texas A&M University.