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
  • AxR
    Re: Etched Vase: How to Discover its Origins?
    I have recently come into possession of something that I was told is a turtle shell with a rather primitive…
    14 February 2019
  • Charlotte
    Re: Be a Volunteer Archaeologist
    Hi I am currently studying for A levels and am looking for a dig I can join in the summer break in the UK. Are you able to…
    3 February 2019
  • Jonathan
    Re: Types of Archaeology
    Hello my name is Jackson from Tanzania I persuade History at the University of Dodoma (UDOM) undergraduate level but Archaeology is among of…
    31 January 2019
  • The Stratman
    Re: Be a Volunteer Archaeologist
    Hello, I'm a man, 63 years long and looking for some digging in the UK. I'v some experiences in this, did some digging at my…
    31 January 2019
  • Kat
    Re: Pottery Experts
    I found a piece of pottery on the beach in Nova Scotia. I was wondering if I could email you a picture and tell me if it means anything or just a…
    24 January 2019
  • Armaan
    Re: Be a Volunteer Archaeologist
    Hi there, I am 17 years old and a junior in high school in the UK. I am interested in volunteering at a dig in July 2019 and…
    22 January 2019
  • ArchaeologicallyChal
    Re: Stone Tool Experts
    Is there any where available to take an item (stone tool) to be properly authenticated? Thank you
    16 January 2019
  • JOREN
    Re: Archaeology as a Hobby
    I live in a town in Perthshire called Coupar Angus. I am interested in finding out if there is any opportunities in this area to take up…
    15 January 2019
  • Willy
    Re: Understanding Weights And Measures In Archaeology
    Ancient grave sites have length markers, but no #s or legend. British grave markers, if red/white is 1…
    12 January 2019
  • Ryan
    Re: Pottery Experts
    Good day. I have acquired a tile that I know nothing about. I'm hoping someone will be able to help with regards to age, production origin etc.…
    11 January 2019