Home > Famous Archaeologists > Dr Eric Ottleban Callen

Dr Eric Ottleban Callen

By: Grahame Johnston - Updated: 1 Jul 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
Dr Eric Ottleban Callen Excrement

In 1955, McGill University in Montreal, Canada, gave one of its professors a small laboratory in which to conduct his research of coprolite.

Dr Eric Ottleban Callen was experimenting in methods to return fossilised excrement to its original, somewhat smelly, form.

His Background

Eric Callen received his doctorate in botany while in Scotland at Edinburgh University. After this, he travelled to Canada and spent much of his short life studying plant pathology at McGill University. Dr Callen had a strong interest in researching South American botany and was curious to analyse human coprolites located from an archaeological excavation of a rural agricultural site in coastal Peru. Callen was searching for fungal spores that might point to infections in ancient Peruvian maize crops.

Callen's investigation of these coprolites yielded a wide variety of biological specimens from his initial analysis. From evaluating the macro evidence, Callen was able to reconstruct the diet of the subject.

Victim of Jokes and Ridicule

Up until this time, archaeologists had thought that coprolites were generally useless at providing any form of relevant information and were thus usually discarded on a digging site. His contemporaries mocked Dr Callen's infant research. Perhaps because of the nature of the subject he was accused of wasting research funds and was the butt of many jokes. However, he persevered and now holds the dubious honour of being the founding father of human coprolite analysis.

Unmoved by the storm of controversy over his experiments he soon abandoned his botanical research to focus exclusively on studying coprolites found on archaeological sites. Today, coprolite research is a valuable aid in anthropology and is now regarded as a respectable occupation.

The Poo Process

Dr Callen's pioneering poo process involved taking the fossilised piece of human excrement and returning it to its original texture by soaking it in a weak solution of tri-sodium phosphate for two days. At the end of the saturation procedure the faeces had not only regained its former shape, size, and colour but also its unmistakable odour. Callen became an expert in reconstituting faeces to their former freshness.

Standards of Analysis

Dr Callen spent much of his working-life alone, trying to convince fellow botanists and archaeologists of the importance of faecal research. It is not surprising to learn that as a professor he had only one student who was interested in the post graduate study of faecal investigation. During his remaining life he committed himself to the development of standards of analysis. These standards form the basis of all coprolite processing, investigation and evaluation today.

Untimely Death

In 1970, at the age of only 58, he suffered a heart attack while on a field trip in Peru. As he had done for much of his professional life, so too in death, he was alone in his laboratory. He was buried at Ayacucho, Peru.

Dr Eric Ottleban Callen would be delighted to know that since his untimely death, coprolite research has been extended well beyond the bounds of his initial investigations. Although Callen never taught professionally on the subject, his efforts have created niche in zooarchaeology and added another valid process in archaeological data gathering.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopefully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Validate:
Enter word:
Topics
Latest Comments
  • Sankha
    Re: What Animal Bones Can Tell Us In Archaeology
    How do we know from bones whether an animal was domesticated or not?
    21 November 2017
  • Acchhu
    Re: Academic Qualifications to Be An Archaeologist
    Sir im Studying BSC CBZ i want to became an Archeologist so on basis of 2nd puc PCMB and i wish to became…
    19 November 2017
  • Becky
    Re: Be a Volunteer Archaeologist
    Hello my name is Rebecca Cuevas, I was born in Mississippi and since I can remember I have been digging things up whether it be…
    19 November 2017
  • CuriousForFacts
    Re: Radio Carbon Dating
    Question: How much does modern-day burning at archaeological sites from campfires, cookouts, candle-burning, etc...affect the results of…
    13 November 2017
  • Timothy
    Re: Be a Volunteer Archaeologist
    I'm completed masters in archaeology. And I 'm already participate in one excavation. I really intrested to work as a volunteer in…
    5 November 2017
  • Pooja
    Re: Academic Qualifications to Be An Archaeologist
    Sir how do we work in a foreign country as archaeologists exmaple..,USA
    22 October 2017
  • arman
    Re: Geophysical Surveys
    I found ancient creatures that include fossils, paintings and rock paintings, and their three-dimensional design, which, according to their…
    20 October 2017
  • SimSam
    Re: Gender Archaeology
    The article "archaeology and the study of gender" by Margaret W. Conkey and Janet D. Spector is a marvellous read on the theme of gender in…
    17 October 2017
  • Dick
    Re: Shinichi Fujimura
    I found a buried artifacts made by a human ashes, a massive cremation of human body during either Spanish or Japanese occupation . Those…
    9 October 2017
  • Jason
    Re: Pottery Experts
    I found a, what seems like clay, pot with a little spout near a dried up canal and was wondering how old it was and if it is worth anything. If…
    2 October 2017
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the ArchaeologyExpert website. Please read our Disclaimer.