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COLUMBUS, Ga. — Columbus State University students are busy cataloguing and analyzing one of the oldest and best-preserved Peruvian archeological collections in the world thanks to Facebook and the hard work of a tech-savvy anthropology professor.
Danielle Cook, a lecturer in CSU’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences, first learned about the 6,500-year-old collection from a Facebook group called Bioanthropology News. A friend of Cook’s tagged her in a post by University of Missouri professor Bob Benfer, who was offering the collection up to any interested parties. At the time, he was cleaning out his garage, where the collection was housed.
Cook was the first to respond to Benfer’s post, and in just a month and half, eight boxes containing human skeletal remains, textiles, skin, hair, brain and even fecal matter with Peruvian toilet paper arrived on CSU’s campus.
“This collection is so unique and so rare because most archeological sites are looted, and artifacts are sold to private collectors,” Cook said. “There are no laws in Central and South America that protect these sites from theft.”
Most of the artifacts are from the La Paloma site, a coastal desert area in Peru. The site was well hidden from looters, making it one of the best collections of Peruvian artifacts in the world, said Cook.
“Danielle’s efforts in securing the La Paloma collection were really impressive,” said Clinton Barineau, chair of the Department of Earth and Space Sciences. “There aren’t many universities the size of CSU that have access to a collection of this nature.”
Cook is taking a collaborative approach to put the collection to good use. Anthropology students are examining the remains to learn more about ancient Peruvian lifestyles; chemistry students are running biochemical tests on bone crystals to see if salt was used in ritualistic burials; biology students are analyzing samples of DNA; and others are testing hair for recreational cocaine use.
“Danielle spends a lot of time getting students involved in undergraduate research,” Barineau said. “Danielle and her students are already discovering new things about Peruvian culture, and I have no doubt CSU students will continue to benefit from this collection for many years to come.”
CSU’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences offers a broad base of scientific study in anthropology, astronomy, environmental science, geology, science education, engineering, robotics and physics. Faculty members offer a diverse array of courses, degrees and student research opportunities. For more information about the department and its programs, visit https://ess.columbusstate.edu/.