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Subject: Poisoned spears

Poisoned spears

From: Jeff Illingworth <laphroiag>
Date: Tuesday, June 13, 2000
Ann Lindsey <alindsey [at] mail__utexas__edu> writes

>... Here at the HRC, we
>have a collection of sixteen spears from the Fiji Islands that may
>have poisoned tips. The spears were brought to the US around
>1942-43. I am looking for information regarding handling protocols,
>storage ideas, and nondestructive testing for toxins. Since most
>things that are toxic to humans are alkaloids and since wood (and
>any traces of blood) would have an acid pH, could a pH test be a
>simple, if crude, first step in testing for toxins? Any help would
>be appreciated.

In response to Ann Lindsey's query concerning poisoned spears, we
have run into a similar situation. We have dealt with poisoned darts
from the Yanomamo of South America and have also been asked for
advice when dealing with Seneca false-face masks which contain
arsenic. Unlike in your case, we knew that these artifacts contained
toxic compounds. In the case of our darts (and perhaps your spears)
the toxin is water soluble and can be removed via soaking. We
elected not to do this (they were part of a private collection and
the individual actually wanted the poison left intact). We opted for
coating the artifacts with parylene conformal coating. The same is
our postulated solution to the Seneca false face masks.

Our handling protocols with these artifacts involved wearing latex
gloves under thick cotton work gloves (to reduce the chance of
penetration by the darts). I suppose you could actually buy
substantial environmental suits or some such thing or, wear a heavy
long sleeve denim jacket. If there is anything else we can do for
you, please let me know.

J. S. Illingworth
Analyst and Conservator
Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute
501 East 38th Street
Erie, PA  16546
Fax: 814-824-2594

                  Conservation DistList Instance 14:1
                   Distributed: Monday, June 19, 2000
                        Message Id: cdl-14-1-004
Received on Tuesday, 13 June, 2000

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