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Museum of the Coastal Bend, Citizens Medical Center examine French colonists' remains

May 3, 2014 at 12:03 a.m.

Stephen Cooper and Dr. Bruce Tharp examine fragments of human remains found at Fort St. Louis as Eric Ray, Museum of the Coastal Bend curator, looks on.

The Museum of the Coastal Bend joined Citizens Medical Center recently for a peek into the past when human remains from Fort St. Louis were examined.

The goal is to learn as much as possible from the bone fragments so a facial reconstruction can be performed, said museum curator Eric Ray.

"These are some of the first French colonists who came to Texas in the 1680s," Ray said of the male and female remains. "They were killed by the indigenous population in 1689 and later buried by the Spanish. They were discovered and excavated in the early 2000s by the Texas Historical Commission."

Thousands and thousands of artifacts, "remnants of their daily lives," were found at the Garcitas Creek site, now on private land, Ray added.

"This is the last step in a long investigation of the people," he said. "We want to learn as much as we can about how they are physically put together to create 3D models and put a face on these bones.

Once studies are completed, the remains will be respectfully reinterred.

Ray said the remains were most likely that of Isabelle Talon and Marquis Sablonniere. Talon was born in Paris, married a man in Quebec, briefly went back to France with her children and then moved to Texas with the La Salle colony.

He described Sablonniere as "an interesting character, but we know less about his life."

"We know he got syphilis in what is now Haiti, which affected his leg," Ray said. "It made it very painful for him to walk long distances."

Citizens radiologist Dr. Bruce Tharp and Radiology Program Director Stephen Cooper X-rayed the remains and then performed a computed tomography (CT) scan to determine how much can be reconstructed.

Each piece was carefully placed on the X-ray table and CT scan. Hospital staff handled them delicately and respectfully, keeping in mind that these were colonists who lived in South Texas more than 300 years ago.

Forensic sculptor Amanda Danning will take the digital printed pieces and put them back together, Ray said.

Danning will complete the process at workspace in the museum's galleries from May 6-10. The general public is invited to view the process and interact with the sculptor during this time.

Families are invited to explore the science of forensics during Forensics Day from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday, May 10.

During the day, visitors can participate in forensics-themed activities:•  Extract real DNA from wheat germ (and learn how you can see your own DNA)

•  Study the patterns in your fingerprints

•  Create a facial composite sketch

•  Measure bones to see how the body fits together

For more information on Museum of the Coastal Bend activities, contact Sue Prudhomme, Director of Cultural Affairs at 361-582-2436 or Sue.Prudhomme@VictoriaCollege.edu.

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