January 7, 2014

Waste

The Hearst Museum has been closed for over an year now. The cause behind this closure was the opportunity to renovate the exhibit galleries and the Kroeber Hall basement. For the latter to happen safely staff, interns and volunteers have been working to inventory and curate all the objects currently housed in the basement. The bulk of the archaeological collections include the assemblages from Nevada and the Great Basin. Few weeks ago we inventoried the content of few cabinets Robert Heizer used to store his research collections. Among other specimen there were about hundred coprolites, leftovers from his research on dietary patterns among prehistoric Indians. 
Featured today are two of those coprolites, both from animals and collected at Lovelock cave, Nevada. 
















Hearst Museum TEMP 2013.
coprolite, coyote (?)
Nevada, Churchill county, Lovelock cave

Essicated feces are among the best finds archaeologists can hope for. They can provide information about diet, travel, hunting and gathering strategies and the environment. The dry conditions in Nevada provided a great environments for their preservation and the Hearst Museum has thousands of them. Between 1967 and 1969, Heizer and colleagues sampled and analyzed hundreds of coprolites mainly from Nevada with samples from Utah, Kentucky, Peru and Mexico. Some samples were re-hydrated using a solution of trisodium phosphate in glass jars. During disaggregation they suggested to use a screw-cap lid, tight, as the odor was disagreeable. Part of the sample was then sieved and analyzed, the rest was placed back in glass jars for future research. Last week one of the conservators opened one of the jars. I wasn't there but I heard it still is surprisingly vile.

















Hearst Museum TEMP 2013.
coprolite, bear (?)
Nevada, Churchill county, Lovelock cave

In his 1970 publication, Heizer complained that too few scientists joined his effort as many samples that were sent around were neither analyzed nor returned. When is possible, the Hearst Museum is contacting the institutions that loaned the specimen to ask if they want them returned but like 40 years ago I do not expect many enthusiastic responses, especially for the liquid leftovers.

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