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Survival of Biological Evidence on Artifacts: Applying Forensic Techniques at the Boston Saloon, Virginia City, Nevada

Kelly J. Dixon
Historical Archaeology
Vol. 40, No. 3, Remains of the Day: Forensic Applications in Archaeology (2006), pp. 20-30
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25617370
Page Count: 11
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Abstract

The Boston Saloon was an African American-owned business that operated during the 1860s and the 1870s in the mining boomtown of Virginia City, Nevada. Most materials recovered from this establishment are similar to artifacts from other Virginia City saloons due to the widespread availability of mass-produced items. This challenges any attempt at investigating relationships between gender and ethnicity from saloon artifacts. Cooperative efforts between forensic sciences and historical archaeological studies provide a solid foundation for developing unequivocal interpretations of these topics by extracting DNA from common, mass-produced artifacts. Specifically, these efforts resulted in the retrieval of a DNA profile from a clay tobacco pipe stem. Choosing the pipe stem and other likely candidates that could have served as material hosts for ancient DNA (in this case, at least 125 years in age) was a learning process, the results of which may require archaeologists to modify standard recovery methods so as to maximize information retrieval. This process led to other techniques, such as the use of a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer (GC/MS), to identify residues on artifacts.

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