Ariel Gruenthal (’08, Anthropology): Humboldt County’s First Female Deputy Coroner

“It’s a puzzle,” says Ariel Gruenthal (’08, Anthropology). But the pieces she’s working with are decayed human remains and the picture she’s trying to build is a snapshot of the deceased’s life before they arrived in the Humboldt County Coroner’s Office.

As an undergraduate, Gruenthal worked with the coroner, helping to identify remains. In Oct. 2010, she was officially sworn in as the County’s first female deputy coroner.

Gruenthal’s interest in forensic anthropology began when she was 13-years-old, after reading “Witnesses from the Grave,” by Clyde Snow, a renowned forensic anthropologist, sometimes called the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ of bones.

Since then she’s been drawn to the science of forensic anthropology, but also the opportunity to reunite families with loved ones they never thought they’d be able to lay to rest.

As an undergraduate, she worked with Anthropology Professor Mary Glenn identifying remains in missing-persons cases for the coroner’s office. “We would lay out skeletons and I would help her do biological profiles of the remains,” Gruenthal says. “That kind of good, hands-on training is the best way to learn.”

The next year, Gruenthal landed an internship with the coroner’s office and began assisting with autopsies. After graduating from HSU, she was accepted into a one-year master’s program in forensic anthropology at the University of Central Lancashire in England, where she studied forensic taphonomy, or the study of decomposition.

Gruenthal returned to Humboldt County to put her new forensic knowledge to work at the coroner’s office. Her goal is to eventually attain her Ph.D. and use her skills as a forensic anthropologist to travel around the world, working with international human rights organizations.