SQUEEZING BLOOD FROM STONE


In case anyone missed it, August 2016 has been a was a red letter month in archaeology. One muggy afternoon a couple of weeks ago I was coming home from work. The CBC afternoon show was on, and host Stephen Quinn interviewed Dr. April Nowell about her work in Jordan about her excavations in Jordan.

She recovered thousands of Paleolithic stone tools and subjected them to the rigours of residue analysis and discovered that people 250,000 years ago were using that site to butcher everything from ducks to rhinoceroses.  She determined this by looking at the residues on stone tools and finding traces of proteins – likely from blood. She used a protocol called immunochemistry to determine this.

At this point I pulled my car over so I could listen more intently from a parking spot I found along the Lougheed Highway in a no parking zone – a small price to pay in the furtherance of science .

It seems that back in the early ’70s I was involved in a similar pursuit with stone tools. I identified traces of blood, fat, pitch and amino acids from stone tools. These gave information on how and on what stone tools were used. My big interest was finding out how sites were used. I also wanted to find out whether  butchering was done on raw or cooked material. My preliminary findings got me the bum’s rush to graduate school. My committee there wanted more. They wanted me to take it to the species level, and the only way to do that was to do immunochemistry, which meant using animals, most likely rabbits. I read several protocols on research with animals, and learned that I would need to euthanize them after I get them to produce  the antibodies necessary to make an identification. One rabbit equals one animal species. I had hundreds of thousand bunnies occupying my dreams –more than I could eat in a lifetime. Actually, they had to be killed and incinerated after use.

So much for ethics. I couldn’t justify their forced demise in the interests of an armchair science.

From my illegal parking spot, and with a Mountie pulling up behind me, I screamed at the radio, “What animal did you use, April? What did you use, Dr Nowell?” Dr. Nowell is made of sturdier stuff that I. She used goats.

I told the Mountie I had engine trouble.

Finding residues on stone tools did have the effect of shaking up archaeological methodology. Back then, it was common practice for scientists to lick off their tools after they pull them from the ground. That stopped. Nobody wanted to be accused of contaminating artifacts.

A lot of scientists followed my lead as they were intent on warning people not to scar artifacts with their trowels while excavating. It ruins their microscopic analysis. It got to the point that archaeologists were buying  plastic shovels and buckets from beachside drugstores to safely extricate their artifacts.

A soon to be professor  Anthropology Department  at my old Alma Mater told me over a few pops in the student pub, “Why do you do yourself and everyone else a favour and leave the amino acids alone.

I suppose I did.

Mike Broderick , a one- time archaeologist, is a Vocational Rehabilitation Counsellor with the Fraser Health Authority in Port Coquitlam where he helps people with mental health disabilities find and keep full or part time employment .

He WAS the Employment Specialist for the Neil Squire Society in Burnaby where he found employment for people with physical disabilities, A Supported Employment Coordinator at THEO BC (now the Open Door Group), and a case manager at Community Fisheries Development Centre where he helped people move from the fishing industry to something else because there, “Ain’t no fish.” This means he is VERY familiar with how a modern day resume should look.

He is a newly retired ambassador with the Vancouver Board of Trade and a former member of the Labour Task Force of the Burnaby Board of Trade He does some work as a field Archaeologist, is a fitness instructor and frequent contributor of fitness humour articles to Alive Magazine. He is always saying, “If you can’t be fit, you can at least be funny.”

He lives in Port Coquitlam with his spouse Cecelia. You can reach him at home at michael_broderick@telus.net  or at 604-464-4105. If you’re looking for a career change, he is the Spin Doctor and can give you a resume makeover at competitive rates

 

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One Response to “SQUEEZING BLOOD FROM STONE”

  1. energywriter Says:

    Great story and amazing info. I couldn’t kill the bunnies either.

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