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Profile: Julie Schablitsky

Meet an archeologist who is helping to rewrite the history of the Donner Party and the Old West.
Publish Date: Topic: Ancient WorldsAncient WorldsBrand: NOVA ScienceNOWNOVA ScienceNOW

(This video is no longer available for streaming.) Historical archeologist Julie Schablitsky is rewriting legendary tales of the American frontier. She has found evidence that members of the Donner family did everything but resort to cannibalism during their ill-fated California trek with a group of settlers in the 1840s (some of whom did turn to forbidden flesh). Schablitsky is also shedding light on one of the most poorly documented aspects of life on the frontier: the history of Chinese laborers who built America's railroads and did other backbreaking work.

Schablitsky fills in the gaps of American history by analyzing the objects that pioneers left behind. She is one of the first archeologists to recover historic-period human DNA from an artifact—a medical syringe that had several users. While she's comfortable getting dirty in the archeological trenches, Schablitsky enjoys getting spruced up as what she calls "a lipstick archeologist."

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