|April 26, 2005
Mike Stepanovich, 661/664-2456 or
A specialized laboratory at California State University, Bakersfield is one of only three labs in the United States that performs a special procedure called protein residue analysis. The Laboratory of Archaeological Sciences, which has been open for two years, takes on projects across the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
“There’s more to archaeology than just digging,” said Robert Yohe, Laboratory of Archaeological Sciences director and anthropology professor. “There is this whole other aspect that entails gathering these artifacts, analyzing them, and having them tell us their story.”
Yohe and his lab technicians test ancient protein residue on artifacts, such as arrowheads, to determine what the tools were used for. Many proteins can survive despite thousands of years of decay. “We can take samples from the micro fractures in glass, such as arrowheads, and find blood, tissue, and fat that would seep into the cracks,” Yohe said. “With information like this we can determine if the artifact was used to kill a deer or bear, for example.” This allows for an understanding of prehistoric hunting procedures and behaviors, he said.
The process from start to finish usually takes a couple of days but isn’t as complicated as one might think. “It isn’t rocket science,” Yohe said. Basically, a series of an unknown sample is run against an antiserum for a species of interest. It is then placed into a specialized tank and a current is run through it. When a reaction occurs it is positive for that species.
Yohe first collaborated with anthropologist Margaret Newman in 1991, who is a pioneer of the field. He said Newman practically donated her business to the university. He added that the Laboratory of Archaeological Sciences pays for itself, including the full-time technician and all of the necessary materials with the work it receives. Orders can range from $60 to $95 for clients.
The Laboratory of Archaeological Sciences is not only for hire, but also is part of the larger Archaeology Laboratory at CSUB, which also includes the Museum of Anthropology and the Center for Archaeological Research.
“The Laboratory of Archaeological Sciences works out of the Archaeology Lab, but we do many other things in the Archaeology Lab as well, including the forensics classes, the faunal and lithics classes, forensics cases for the coroner and graduate student projects,” said Jill Gardner, assistant director of the Center for Archaeological Research at CSUB. “The Archaeology Lab is a multiuse facility that encourages participation by our students in various activities. We employ students, plus they volunteer their time to work on projects. We train students to do cultural resource management, which is what most of our archaeology students will do when they graduate.”
Also under the Archaeology Lab’s umbrella is the Museum of Anthropology, which is the only federally recognized archaeological curatorial facility in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Yohe is also the museum director.
Yohe also works on forensic cases for the coroner in the Archaeology Lab. “We want to offer multidisciplinary opportunities to students,” Yohe stressed. “Many people don’t know about us, but we really want to get the word out about what’s available right here on campus.”
For more information on protein residue analysis or any of the other services offered by the Anthropology Department at CSUB, please contact Yohe at (661) 664-3457.