Monday, July 25, 2016

New clue to the location of the USS Indianapolis

History resource article by Mary Harrsch © 2016 .

Survivors of the USS Indianapolis rescued by the USS Tranquility arrive at Guam
August 8, 1945.  Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy.
In the final days of the war, the U.S.S. Indianapolis completed a top secret mission to deliver components of the atomic bomb used in Hiroshima to U.S. forces in the theater. After dropping those components off at Tinian in the Marianas Islands, Indianapolis headed to Leyte, an island in the Philippines, when it was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine just after midnight on July 30, 1945. Around 800 of the ship’s 1,196 Sailors and Marines survived the sinking, but after four to five harrowing days in the water, suffering exposure, dehydration, drowning, and shark attacks, only 316 survived.
While reviewing the Navy’s holdings and other information related to Indianapolis, NHHC historian Richard Hulver, Ph.D., found a blog post and photo online that recounted the story of a World War II Sailor whose ship passed Indianapolis less than a day before the ship was sunk. This corroborated an account by Indianapolis Captain Charles McVay, III that his ship passed an unspecified LST approximately 11 hours prior to the sinking. Hulver located the Sailor’s service record from the National Personnel Records Center which identified the Sailor as a passenger on tank landing ship USS LST-779 during the period in which Indianapolis sank. That sent Hulver to the National Archives where LST-779’s deck logs confirmed the story.
 The meeting between Indianapolis and LST-779 has been seemingly overlooked in previous studies of Indianapolis.
 Hulver continued, “The LST-779 data sheds new light on where Indianapolis was attacked and sunk.” This brings us closer to discovering the final resting place of the ship and many of her crew. 

Although the location of Indianapolis is known to be in the Philippine Sea, two previous attempts to find the wreck have failed. In July–August 2001, an expedition sought to find the wreckage through the use of side-scan sonar and underwater cameras mounted on a remotely operated vehicle. Four Indianapolis survivors accompanied the expedition, which was not successful. In June 2005, a second expedition was mounted to find the wreck. National Geographic covered the story and released it in July. Submersibles were launched to find any sign of wreckage. The only objects ever found, which have not been confirmed to have belonged to Indianapolis, were numerous pieces of metal of varying size found in the area of the reported sinking position.

Hulver summarized the historical literature, conducted archival research, and prepared a report incorporating the new information gleaned from LST-779’s brief encounter with Indianapolis. NHHC’s summary was published online as part of a project to consolidate the entirety of NHHC’s holdings on Indianapolis into an easy-to-navigate, online resource ( prepared in advance of the 71st anniversary of the ship’s loss July 30. 

The USS Indianapolis National Memorial  was dedicated on 2 August 1995. It is located on the Canal Walk in Indianapolis. The heavy cruiser is depicted in limestone and granite and sits adjacent to the downtown canal. The crewmembers' names are listed on the monument, with special notations for those who lost their lives. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Great Lakes Naval Museum Changes It's Name And Focus

A history resource article by Mary Harrsch © 2016

The United States Navy has announced that The Great Lakes Naval Museum will be officially renamed the National Museum of the American Sailor.  The National Museum of the American Sailor currently features exhibits on life in Navy boot camp, naval uniforms and traditions, the history of Naval Station Great Lakes, the role of diversity in the Navy and the role of women in the Navy.  Over the next two years, however, the museum will expand its exhibits to introduce visitors to the overall history and role of the U.S. Navy and the experiences of American Sailors in the past and today.

Crew of the U.S.S. Unadilla, a screw gunboat.  In October 1861, Unadilla joined the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron under Rear Admiral Samuel F. Du Pont and participated in the capture of Fort Walker and Fort Beauregard in Port Royal Sound, South Carolina, on 7 November. During the bombardment, the gunboat was struck six times but suffered no casualties and sustained minor damage to her hull and rigging. Control of Port Royal Sound enabled the Union Navy to coordinate the blockade of the southern Atlantic seacoast more effectively for the duration of the war.  Image courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Henry VIII: Did History lose a true prince of the Renaissance to traumatic brain injury?

An armored Henry VIII and his charger at the Tower of London
in London, England.  Photo by Mary Harrsch © 2006
A history resource article by  © 2015

Note:  This is a cross-post from my blog "History's Medical Mysteries".

Today, I read an interesting paper by Muhammad Qaiser Ikram, Fazle Hakim Sajjad, Arash Salardini published in the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience proposing that Henry VIII's erratic behavior, particularly after 1536, was the result of repeated traumatic brain injuries.  Furthermore, the researchers propose that his dramatic weight gain and even his leg ulcers could have been the result of post-traumatic growth hormone deficiency, one of the many afflictions that accompany traumatic brain injury.

They begin their examination of the historical record by pointing to a report by the Spanish ambassador in 1507 pronouncing “There is no finer youth in the world than the Prince of Wales”. A 16-year-old Henry was "lighthearted, merry, and easily given to laughter.” One could say this was long before Henry had experienced the heavy weight of kingship.  But eight years later in 1515, despite suffering a bout of smallpox the previous year, Henry meets with the Venetian ambassador who says of Henry he was “prudent and wise and free from every vice.”

With Henry's love of often dangerous medieval sports, especially jousting, however, his easy-going personality would not last.

"In March 1524 the king was unseated after a jousting lance found its way into his open visor and broke into many splintered pieces. Henry was de-horsed and dazed, although he continued to joust for the rest of the day. He is said to have had recurrent headaches after this point." - Muhammad Qaiser Ikram, et al, The head that wears the crown: Henry VIII and traumatic brain injury

Henry VIII's blackened, etched and gilt Italian field armor
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Photo by Mary Harrsch © 2007
Then, in 1525, while hawking, Henry, attempting to vault over a hedge with a pole, plunged head first into a water-filled ditch.

"He may have been dazed or unconscious because it is said of the incidence that if Edmund Mody had not pulled him out of the ditch, legs first, he may have drowned." - Muhammad Qaiser Ikram, et al, The head that wears the crown: Henry VIII and traumatic brain injury

An avid outdoorsman, Henry VIII enjoyed hunting.  Here he hunts deer with Anne Boleyn in this 1903
painting by William Powell Frith.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Although now plagued with headaches and having suffered two bouts of malaria, Henry still seemed amiable to court visitors.  Desiderius Erasmus, a noted Dutch Renaissance humanist, while visiting the Tudor court in 1529, described Henry as "… a man of gentle friendliness, and gentle in debate; he acts more like a companion than a king".

Then on January 24, 1536, the king was unseated while charging at full speed in a joust and his steed fell upon him.  Henry was said to be unable to speak for two hours which the researchers attribute to a loss of consciousness.

Members of Henry's court began to notice the king appeared to be suffering from significant memory problems. In July 1536, Henry's illegitimate son Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond, died of tuberculosis.

"He was buried in near-secret in the presence of his father-in-law the Duke of Norfolk, and two other personages, by the king’s own instructions. Yet in a few days Henry appears to have forgotten his own role in the funeral and was accusing the Duke of Norfolk of inappropriate behavior towards FitzRoy." - Muhammad Qaiser Ikram, et al, The head that wears the crown: Henry VIII and traumatic brain injury

The researchers explain, "Traumatic brain injury disproportionately damages white matter tracts  [the cells in the brain that transmit signals from one region to another] which may manifest as amnesia, apathy and loss of initiative, executive dysfunction [executive processes include goal formation, planning, goal-directed action, self-monitoring, attention and response inhibition] as well as impulse and emotional dysregulation [radical mood swings including angry outbursts, behavior outbursts such as throwing objects or destroying things and aggression]."

In fact, his possible loss of impulse control may have led to his beheading of Queen Anne Boleyn in May 1536 and his, increasingly brutal, dissolution of the monasteries from 1535-1540. (My observation not theirs) He also married three more times during this period although the death of Jane Seymour from childbirth complications could not be attributed to Henry's mental illness.

Anne Boleyn in the Tower by Edouard Cibot, 1835.

The researchers point out that Henry began to demonstrate explosive and murderous anger that was relatively easily provoked.

"The irascibility and changeability of Henry was a source of constant anxiety for Tudor courtiers. Several ambassadors noted the unpredictability of Henry, who was often furious for reasons not immediately obvious to his ministers and advisers. The French ambassador for example speaks of his 'lightness and inconstancy' in 1540. His explosive anger could often end in the execution of an unsuspecting courtier or friend. The king was unable to control other impulses, whether these were related to his unreasonable suspicions or his lust for other peoples’ property."  - Muhammad Qaiser Ikram, et al, The head that wears the crown: Henry VIII and traumatic brain injury

Henry also suffered from depression and extended periods of self-pity.  After executing Thomas Cromwell in July 1540, Henry fell into a deep depression and in 1541, claiming to mourn Cromwell, confined himself to Hampton Court for a long period.

One of the ornate towers and Tudor-era chimneys at
Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, England.
Photo by Mary Harrsch © 2008
Another result of traumatic brain injury that is often overlooked is damage to the pituitary gland. Such damage may result in growth hormone deficiency and hypogonadotrophic hypogonadism.  In an adult, growth hormone deficiency may result in loss of strength, stamina, and musculature, poor bone density, diminished lean body mass and visceral obesity. So Henry's ballooning weight may not have been entirely attributable to a gargantuan appetite.

Closeup of a portly Henry VIII by American miniaturist
George S. Stuart at the Museum of Ventura County, CA.
Photo by Mary Harrsch © 2006
Psychological symptoms include poor memory, social withdrawal, and depression which also coincide with reports we have already examined.

Symptoms of hypogonadism in an adult include low libido, and infertility.  You may think with court tales of countless sexual liasons and the king married six times, Henry surely must not have suffered from a diminished libido.  But, in fact, the researchers find repeated references to Henry's inability to perform in the bedroom.

"Anne and George Boleyn were accused of ridiculing the king. Anne appears to have told her sister-in-law that Henry 'was not adept in the matter of coupling with a woman and that he had neither vertu [skill] nor puissance [vigour]'." - Muhammad Qaiser Ikram, et al, The head that wears the crown: Henry VIII and traumatic brain injury

They also point to his inability to consummate his marriage to Anne of Cleves in 1540.

"Various excuses were made from 'misliking of her body for the hanging of her breast and the looseness of her flesh', to the charge that the king was duped by an unnecessarily complimentary portrait of Anne." - Muhammad Qaiser Ikram, et al, The head that wears the crown: Henry VIII and traumatic brain injury

Anne of Cleves by Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder 1540s

The researchers also suspect Henry's disastrous marriage to Catherine Howard, a young woman who took many lovers while Henry's lack of extra-marital activity was attributed to his fidelity.  They say this seems highly unlikely in view of his long history of youthful virility and sexual indiscretions.

I find it particularly tragic that Henry's own traumatic brain injury may have been ultimately responsible for the lack of an heir he so desperately craved all of those years.

By the late 1540s, Henry's symptoms had reached catastrophic proportions affecting both his personal life and ability to lead his country.

In 1544, Henry declared war on France and besieged the town of Boulogne.  At one point he simultaneously ordered fortification of the city while issuing an oral order to demolish it.

His sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr, was not spared from his irrational tirades either.

"...the king loved religious debates and during one acrimonious argument between Catherine Parr and Gardiner [in 1546] he unreasonably ordered the transportation of the queen to the Tower of London. The next day he appears to have forgotten about the incident and was consoling his distraught wife. When the soldiers arrived to take her away, he could not remember the original orders he had given and had to be prompted to remember the episode. When he remembered he flew into another fit of rage." - Muhammad Qaiser Ikram, et al, The head that wears the crown: Henry VIII and traumatic brain injury

A miniature portrait of Catherine Parr circa 1543
by Lucas Horenbout
Within months, Henry VIII was dead.

Since his death there has been a flurry of diagnoses proposed to account for Henry's physical symptoms and erratic behavior.

 "One of the hypotheses regarding the health of Henry VIII is that he had Cushing’s syndrome [a condition with symptoms that include high blood pressure, abdominal obesity but with thin arms and legs, reddish stretch marks, a round red face, a fat lump between the shoulders, weak muscles, weak bones, acne, and fragile skin that heals poorly]. There appears to be a temporal relationship between Henry’s documented head injuries and the stepwise worsening of his health which this hypothesis cannot explain. Another older hypothesis is that Henry had syphilis but this is now largely abandoned. Other hypothesized mechanisms for Henry’s change include diabetes and hypothyroidism, neither of which can account for the whole picture. Another recent hypothesis regarding Henry’s health is that he had McLeod syndrome [a genetic mutation with symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, cardiomyopathy and hemolytic anemia along with late-onset dementia and behavioral changes usually not noticed until the individual is in their 50s] with infertility and psychosis. Henry, however, is not reported to have had choreiform movements [irregular muscular movements that make walking difficult] or dystonic reactions [twisting and repetitive movements caused by sustained muscle contractions]." - Muhammad Qaiser Ikram, et al, The head that wears the crown: Henry VIII and traumatic brain injury

So, the researchers conclude, "We know of at least three major head injuries in Henry’s life. He may have had headaches and more subtle changes to his personality after his first head injury, but there is a marked stepwise change in him after 1536. It is entirely plausible, though perhaps not provable, that repeated traumatic brain injury lead to changes in Henry’s personality. This is not to discount the complex time in which he lived or the impact of events on him. Whether some of the metabolic problems he faced later in life can be explained in terms of his head injury is a longer bow to draw but not outside the realms of possibility."

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Knole House receiving needed TLC

A history resource article by  © 2015

Knole House served as a country palace and hunting lodge for English Kings Henry VIII
and James II.  Photograph by Mary Harrsch © 2008

I was really pleased to see in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of Archaeology Magazine that Knole House, a country palace once enjoyed by Henry VIII after wresting it from Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cramner, is getting some sorely needed restoration.  I first visited this sprawling complex back in 2008.  A friend who lives in Kent stopped there on the way to dropping me off at my hotel in Sevenoaks (I decided to stay in the country rather than in London on that particular trip).  Unfortunately, it was late in the afternoon and the English Heritage people were just closing up the 365-room complex.  So I contented myself with photographing the grounds and the fallow deer that graze the 1,000 acre park on which the house sits.  Thankfully, they are no longer hunted by the royals!

Then in 2013, I had another opportunity to see the house.  We purchased our tickets then watched a very interesting introductory film before finally entering the complex.  I was disappointed that photography was prohibited although this may have changed.  An internet friend recently uploaded images he had taken inside at Hampton Court, another wonderful palace complex I have visited and was prohibited from taking pictures indoors.  I emailed him and he said the restrictions there have been lifted so perhaps, after the English Heritage restoration at Knole House, the restrictions will be lifted there as well.  Photography will be a challenge, though, as the house is paneled extensively with dark English oak and the lighting is very dim.

Anyway, inside, I found a lot of royal and noble portrait paintings including some by the famous artist Joshua Reynolds as well as King Henry VIII's official court painter Hans Holbein the Younger. One painting was a portrait of a beautiful young woman with the iconic red hair of the Stuart line wearing a tunic that looked very much like one a man would wear under a breastplate. Apparently the English Heritage Folks weren't sure who it was but there was speculation it was a young Mary Queen of Scots. She looked every inch the warrior queen. Perhaps Elizabeth I's counselors were right to convince Elizabeth to execute her!

Furnishings included a lavishly gilded bed used by Queen Elizabeth I, another used by King James II and a very early billiards table.  Sadly, the furnishings were in pretty bad nick as my English friends often say.  Hopefully the National Trust restoration will include a few funds to restore some of the furnishings as well.  Although I was not allowed to photograph the interior there are some early 20th century monochrome images on Wikimedia Commons.

Here are more of my images of the exterior though:

Bouchier's Tower at Knole House in Sevenoaks, Kent with the Borghese Gladiator in the foreground.  Photograph by
Mary Harrsch © 2013

Closeup of the Borghese Gladiator at Knole House in
Sevenoaks, Kent.  Photograph by Mary Harrsch © 2013
Closeup of the clocktower on Bouchier's Tower at Knole House
in Sevenoaks, Kent.  Photograph by Mary Harrsch © 2013

The stone court at Knole House in Kent.  Photograph by Mary Harrsch © 2013

Another view of the stone court at Knole House in Kent.  Photographed by Mary Harrsch © 2013
Some structural details:

Tudor-era hardware at Knole House in Kent.
Photographed by Mary Harrsch © 2013

To see more of my images of Knole House check out my Knole House album on Flickr.

Knole House also has a cozy cafe back by the carriage house offering sandwiches, hot soup and pastries as well as a very well-stocked gift shop.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Getting the Scoop on Pre-Clovis Poop - The Investigations Continue

A history resource article by  © 2015

Ancient American.  Photo by Mary Harrsch © 2004.

Recently, one of my friends posted a Smithsonian Magazine article to my Facebook timeline about new DNA research linking prehistoric Amazon populations in Brazil to prehistoric Australians. Researchers think a non-Mongoloid common ancestral group that had originally migrated from Africa traveled to south Asia. From there, the group branched off with some of the group migrating north to Siberia while the rest migrated south to New Guinea and Australia.  The non-Mongoloid Siberian group eventually continued on to the Americas continuing their migration all the way into South America, apparently without leaving any remnants in North America. Furthermore, the DNA study appears to corroborate Brazilian Paleoindian skull studies performed in 2002.  In that study, Paleoindian skulls dating between 8200 and 9500 BP recovered in Brazil were compared to late Pleistocene/Early Holocene skulls recovered from sites in Australia and New Zealand.

"The Santana do Riacho late Paleoindians present a cranial morphology characterized by long and narrow neurocrania, low and narrow faces, with low nasal apertures and orbits. The multivariate analyses show that they exhibit strong morphological affinities with present day Australians and Africans, showing no resemblance to recent Northern Asians and Native Americans. These findings confirm our long held opinion that the settlement of the Americas was more complicated in terms of biological input than has been widely assumed. The working hypothesis is that two very distinct populations entered the New World by the end of the Pleistocene, and that the transition between the cranial morphology of the Paleoindians and the morphology of later Native Americans, which occurred around 8-9 ka, was abrupt. This, in our opinion, is a more parsimonious explanation for the diversity detected than a long, local microevolutionary process mediated by selection and drift. The similarities of the first South Americans with sub-Saharan Africans may result from the fact that the non-Mongoloid Southeast Asian ancestral population came, ultimately, from Africa, with no major modification in the original cranial bau plan of the first modern humans." - Walter Alves Nevesa, André Prousb, Rolando González-José, Renato Kipnis and Joseph Powell, Early Holocene human skeletal remains from Santana do Riacho, Brazil: implications for the settlement of the New World, Journal of Human Evolution 45 (2003) 19–42

But, although the Smithsonian article mentions a coprolite (fossilzed feces) study done here in Oregon in which fragments of human DNA were found dating to as far back as 14,340 B.P. and the DNA was found to share commonalities with modern Native Americans, there was no discussion about how the Oregon findings appear to contradict the theories put forward by the 2002 Brazilian skull researchers and later DNA studies that non-Mongoloid Paleoindians settled South America first and later Mongoloid groups became the ancestors of northern Native Americans.

As it turns out, I interviewed Dr. Dennis Jenkins of the University of Oregon back in 2009 about his coprolite studies for a website in London that is no longer online.  I've never been one to waste research so I am republishing it here for those who may not have read it back in 2009 and have an ongoing interest in these types of investigations seeking to discover ancient migration patterns from the Old World to the New.  At the end I have added updates about more recent ongoing investigations at Paisley Caves and elsewhere.

So, here once again is "Getting the Scoop on Pre-Clovis Poop!" originally published in 2009.

Looking out across the arid sagebrush-dotted landscape of southeastern Oregon makes a person wonder if there's anyone really out there.  When I lived there for seven years in the late 1970s and early 80s and worked as an economic development coordinator for a local county government, I actually heard the region referred to as  "the empty quarter".  But Oregon's high desert, part of the 200,000 square mile area known collectively as The Great Basin, is actually teaming with life and, as it turns out, even human life, for over 14,000 years.

In fact, a handful of shallow caves near Summer Lake, a large alkali bed in south central Oregon, have yielded human remains in the form of coprolites (fossilized feces) that return carbon dates of between 12,750 and 14,340 calendar years before present.  This finding appears to finally wield a death blow to the "Clovis first" school of thought that has ruled the chronology of settlement of the Americas since the mid-20th century.

Summer Lake in southeast Oregon's Great Basin country.  Photo by Mary Harrsch © 2015
The Clovis first theory was developed following the discovery of a number of sites in the 1930s containing artifacts from a Paleo-Indian culture who produced distinctive bifacial lanceolate spear points.   Found near Clovis, New Mexico in excavations between 1932 and 1937, remains of this prehistoric population group have been dated to near the end of the last Ice Age, originally thought to be about 13,000 years ago.  New radiocarbon dates by Michael Waters from Center for the Study of First Americans, Texas A&M University, and Thomas Stafford, Stafford Research, Inc, Boulder, Colorado, place Clovis remains from the continental United States in an even shorter time window (11,050 to 10,900 years ago).

Clovis spear point.  Image courtesy
of Wikimedia Commons.
The Clovis people were skilled hunters who stalked large mammals, particularly mammoths and mastodons, evidenced by numerous finds of the skeletal remains of these late Pleistocene animals intermixed with Clovis weapon points.  In fact, the Clovis people were considered to be such lethal hunters that they have been placed at the center of the Pleistocene overkill hypothesis used to explain the extinction of these animals from the North American continent. This may be an oversimplification, however, as research has shown the Clovis people utilized over 125 species of plants and animals including extinct bison, mastodon, sloths, tapir, paleolama, horse and a host of smaller animals.

As years passed and no validated archaeological evidence dated earlier than the Clovis period (using the somewhat limited dating methods available at the time) were discovered, the Clovis first theory became solidly entrenched. However, it began to unravel as early as 1961 with the discovery of a child's skull in Taber, Alberta, Canada, carbon dated to 30,000 y.b.p.  The dating of the skull was immediately dismissed as erroneous as were artifacts at Crows Nest Pass (Alberta) dated to 23,000 y.b.p., stone choppers and scrapers below the glacial deposits in Grimshaw, Bow River and Lethbridge (Alberta) dated to 40,000 - 20,000 y.b.p. and human-worked mammoth bones found by Canadian archaeologist, Jacques Cinq-Mars, in 1978-79 at the site of Bluefish Caves in the Yukon Territory.  A bone spear point from the Bluefish site was finally radiocarbon dated in the early 1990s to 28,000 y.b.p.  But, Cinq-Mars research was ignored by mainstream anthropologists so he was unable to obtain funding for follow-up research until 2008.  I was actually surprised that so many Canadian finds appear to have been totally omitted from lists of potential pre-Clovis sites, even though core ice sample studies in the late 1970s indicated Arctic ice was only 17,000 years old in areas that could have served as corridors to the North American continent during earlier epochs.

More publicity was awarded to controversial sites in the US where researchers had to focus their dating efforts on contextual remains rather than human artifact samples until Dr. Dennis Jenkins of the University of Oregon recovered human coprolites from a cluster of dry rock caves 150 miles south of Bend, Oregon (USA) in 2002.
Dr. Dennis Jenkins excavating Paisley Caves.
Image courtesy of the University of Oregon.

Throughout most of the first half of the 20th century, coprolites were considered relatively worthless and were usually discarded when found in archaeological excavations.  But in 1946, botanist Eric Callen was asked to search for evidence of maize in human coprolites recovered by archaeologist Junius Bird from a pre-Colombian excavation at Huaca Prieta in the Chicama Valley of Peru. Although Dr. Callen, then a professor of plant pathology at McGill University in Montreal, did not find any maize pathogens in Bird's samples, he became intrigued with the information he did discover and soon switched to archaeology focused exclusively on coprolites.  Needless to say, Dr. Callen, despite his degree from the University of Edinburgh, was ridiculed for what many of his colleagues considered to be bizarre research.  But the importance of knowledge gained from the study of excrement was revealed with advancements in genetic studies in the late 50s and 60s and now Dr. Callen, who unfortunately died prematurely of a heart attack on a dig in 1970, is recognized as the father of human coprolite analysis.   But back to the coprolites in question!

Paisley Caves was not targeted as a potential pre-Clovis site.  In fact, the remote site, plundered by pot hunters in modern times, was first excavated in 1938 by Dr. Luther Cressman, founder of the University's Department of Anthropology and former husband of world-famous anthropologist, Margaret Mead.  Cressman's team trenched caves 1, 2 and 3 of the 8 caves and rockshelters that comprised the site.  They evaluated three stratigraphic levels, examining sediments above Mazama ash, in the ash, and below the ash. (Mount Mazama was a stratovolcano in the Oregon Cascade Range that erupted in approximately 5,677 B.C. with a force estimated at 42 times more powerful than that of Mt.St. Helens in 1980.  Crater Lake, the centerpiece of Crater Lake National Park, is nestled in the remnants of Mazama's caldera.)  They discovered a few human artifacts in apparent association with the remains of extinct late Pleistocene camel, bison, and horses but Cressman's finds were largely ignored because of what was subsequently viewed as a lack of adequate documentation.

Pleistocene mastodon hunt courtesy of Pinterest.
New excavations were launched in 2002.  Dr. Jenkins' team focused on the recovery of in situ bone and cultural materials and photographed all large mammal bones and artifacts found in situ.  They sampled the soil around all specimens thought to be from the Pleistocene era and employed a newer dating method, obsidian hydration, to provide information about the surrounding context.

Although radiocarbon dating has been around since 1949, obsidian hydration as a dating technique was introduced by geologists Irving Friedman and Robert Smith in 1960.  Obsidian hydration is based on the fact that obsidian, a volcanic glass formed by the rapid cooling of silica-rich lava, has a saturation point of 3.5 percent.

Obsidian contains about 0.2 percent water. When a piece of obsidian is fractured, atmospheric water is attracted to the surface and begins to diffuse into the glass. This results in the formation of a water rich hydration rind that increases in depth with time. The hydration process continues until the fresh obsidian surface contains about 3.5 percent water. This is the saturation point. The thickness of the hydration rind can be identified in petrographic thin sections cut normal to the surface and observed under a microscope. Friedman and Smith reasoned that the degree of hydration observed on an obsidian artifact could tell archaeologists how long it had been since that surface was created by a flintknapper. - Chronological Methods 10 - Obsidian Hydration Dating, University of California, Santa Barbara.

Cave 1 yielded sage brush charcoal dated to 8440 y.b.p., human feces dated to 7540 y.b.p, and a basketry fragment, and a few point fragments, the oldest of these artifacts was a butcher-cut artiodactyl (deer, pronghorn, or mountain sheep) rib dated at 11,930 y.b.p.  In Cave 2, charcoal remains were discovered at a depth of more than a meter below the Mazama ash layer and was associated with stone-working debris and tools of various kinds including a short length of sagebrush rope, a wooden peg, a pumice abrader, and scrapers.  The rope returned a radiocarbon date of 12,000 y.b.p. and a butcher-cut sage grouse bone an age of 13,860 y.b.p.

In Cave 5, dense cultural remains were found to depths of a meter and a half below the Mazama ash layer.  Processed sinew and grass fiber thread was unearthed at a little over 1 meter below the ash layer.  The grass fiber thread produced a carbon date of 12,750 y.b.p.

Mural of prehistoric camelids that roamed Oregon in the late .
Pleistocene.  Photographed at the John Day Fossil Beds
Visitors Center by Mary Harrsch.
But the best was yet to come for in Cave 5, remains of prehistoric camelids (camels and llamas) were recovered along with human coprolites in the same layer.  An ankle bone from one of the animals produced a carbon date of 14,290 y.b.p., corresponding to the date produced by the fossilized coprolites.

Samples from the coprolites from Cave 5 were sent to Dr. Eske Willerslev in Copenhagen for DNA analysis.  Dr. Willerslev had developed a new technique to recover DNA from dirt and ice.  When Willerslev successfully extracted DNA from the samples, they were submitted to three labs in Germany and Sweden to obtain independent results.  All three returned dates of approximately 14,300 years ago.  The results were presented at a special conference of prehistoric archaeologists last February and was, for the most part, widely embraced.  But, a cadre of researchers at none other than Dr. Callen's own McGill University questioned some of the methods used to produce the findings recently in a July 2009 issue of Science magazine.  Questions focused primarily on the presence of canine DNA possibly indicating the feces were not human and  possible unidentified sources of contamination, either directly or through leeching  associated with human urine seepage through the cave deposits.   Jenkins and Willersley pointed out that canine and human cohabitation could have occurred at the site so the presence of canine DNA would not be surprising.  But the questions surrounding contamination were more difficult to resolve.

"We were particularly concerned about leeching," explains Dr. Jenkins, "especially since rodent feces comprise almost 80 percent of the excavation material.  But we tested the coprolites for wood rat DNA and found no trace of it.  If there had been no leeching of rodent DNA into the coprolites with their presence in the environment so high, there is little reason to suspect leeching from subsequent human visitations.  Lithic debris was generally found to be very sparse and the proportion of tools to debitage unusually high. This pattern suggests that occupations were generally limited to very brief stays and that the site was not generally a destination camp."

The researchers also evaluated the fecal samples for Native American haplogroups and found both A and B groups associated exclusively with Native American populations.  To remove any doubts about sample contamination from researcher contact, all team members were tested for the presence of Native American haplogroups A and B. None were found in any of the 67 people who had come into contact with the samples during the research process.

Armed with new Bureau of Land Management and National Science Foundation research grants, Dr. Jenkins and his team suited up in full isolation garb in 2008 to recover more coprolites from the Pleistocene aged deposits.  New field workers were again tested for Native American genetic markers.

"We collected over 300 new coprolites bringing our total collection to over 1100," Jenkins exclaims, "We're collecting all coprolites we find whether or not we suspect they are human.  Some may be wolf, or bear, or dog.  But, we feel our chances to find human remains increases each time we find one so we're gathering every one employing stringent collection protocol to protect against contamination of ancient coprolites with modern DNA.  During the excavations we also found a toothed comb-like bone implement that we are very excited about and are anxious to learn its radiocarbon age.  Of course we realize the bone itself could be much older than the point in time it was fashioned into an artifact but we approach each challenge as they come."

Thomas Stafford also visited the site and took numerous samples.  His research firm, based in Boulder, Colorado, will apply revolutionary chemical pre-treatment techniques to finds including the extraction and freeze drying of urine from samples to exclude material seepage that may be impacting radiocarbon dates.

"Artifacts may actually be older than radiocarbon dates indicate if there is contamination from urine produced at a later time," Jenkins explains.  "Such analysis is extremely expensive but results will be that much more precise."

Portrait of Modoc chief Yellow Hammer by
E.A. Burbank, 1901.  Image courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons.
Perhaps the aspect of his research that is the most gratifying to Jenkins is that it is viewed positively by local Native American tribes.  "Members of  The Klamath Tribes (Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin Paiute) are enthusiastic supporters of our work here," Jenkins observes, "they are proud of their heritage and thrilled that we've put the little community of Paisley on the world map.  They tell me, 'Dennis, we told you we have been here forever!' You will find even older evidence of our ancestors.'"

After the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act almost 20 years ago, much of the research on early remains was stopped. Prehistoric remains became bones of contention between archaeologists and tribal members culminating with a court battle that erupted over the posssession of the 9,300 year old Kennewick Man. Now, coprolites are seen as the key to the future study of ancient American population groups.

Jenkins, like Dr. Callen before him, sees enormous potential in his collection of prehistoric poop.  "Once you start digging into these coprolites, you realize you've got data that can't be found anywhere else.  These people weren't just mammoth hunters, they were eating chicken-sized sage grouse, rabbits, and many different kinds of plants!"

Jenkins hopes that between his archaeology and Willerslev's genetic detective work, they may eventually be able to identify genetic links that can be mapped and used to create a more accurate theory about the spread of humans across the Americas.  Who knows, perhaps they will even be able to relieve PaleoIndians of the blame for extinction of America's megafauna too!

Update - After Jenkins initial findings were published in the May 2008 journal Science, another research team led by Ainara Sistiaga, an archaeologist from MIT, analyzed the fossilized excrement and pointed out the material contained too high of percentage of plant material to be excrement from a human.

Sistiaga’s team used gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to scan the scat for types of sterols — fatty molecules found in both plants and animals. When plants are digested, they produce byproducts called phytosterols. Animal tissues, meanwhile, contain cholesterol — which the human body also manufactures on its own — and it, in turn, is metabolized into a compound called coprostanol
“Humans, because of their omnivorous diet and their high levels of cholesterol biosynthesis, will always have a predominance of coprostanol, the intestinal product of cholesterol,” Sistiaga said. 
But while coprostanol usually makes up about 60% of the sterols in human droppings, she said, the study finds that nearly 70% of the sterols in the Paisley Cave feces are plant-based. 
“Even in the case of a vegetarian diet — unusual in an Upper Paleolithic society — the cholesterol and coprostanol values are too small to derive from a human,” she [Sistiaga] said. - Blake De Pastino, Western Digs (2013)

The Sistiaga team analyzed the original coprolites found in 2008, though.  In 2012, Jenkins led another team back to Paisley Caves and recovered projectile points, animal bones and more coprolites that dated to 13,200 B.P. - still older than dates the Brazilian team estimated for northern Paleoindians.

If you find all this fascinating and would like to learn even more about early prehistory, I would encourage you to check out Dr. Brian Fagan's course, Human Prehistory and the First Civilizations, available from The Great Courses.


Thompson, H. (n.d.). A DNA Search for the First Americans Links Amazon Groups to Indigenous Australians. Retrieved August 4, 2015, from

Neves, W., Prous, A., González-José, R., Kipnis, R., & Powell, J. (n.d.). Early Holocene human skeletal remains from Santana do Riacho, Brazil: Implications for the settlement of the New World.Journal of Human Evolution, 45(2003), 19-42. Retrieved August 4, 2015, from
A. Sistiaga, F. Berna, R. Laursen, & P. Goldberg (2014). Steroidal biomarker analysis of a 14,000 years old putative human coprolite from Paisley Cave, Oregon Journal of Archaeological Science DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2013.10.016
M. Thomas P. Gilbert, Dennis L. Jenkins, Anders Götherstrom, Nuria Naveran, Juan J. Sanchez, Michael Hofreiter, Philip Francis Thomsen, Jonas Binladen, Thomas F. G. Higham, Robert M. Yohe II, Robert Parr, Linda Scott Cummings, & Eske Willerslev (2008). DNA from Pre-Clovis Human Coprolites in Oregon, North America Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1154116