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Monday, June 1, 2009

UNCP hosts forensic scientist D. Steve Macko

Dr. Steve Macko, a forensic scientist to some of the oldest celebrities on the planet, came to UNC Pembroke on April 28.

Steve MackoHair samples of the 5,000-year-old Ice Man and a 10,000-year-old mammoth have been analyzed by Dr. Macko’s mass spectrometer at the University of Virginia (UVA) along with some ancient Egyptians, George Washington and journalist Diane Sawyer too.

From the tiniest strand of hair, the geochemist can determine a lot about a person.

“You are what you eat,” Dr. Macko told a group of UNCP scientists in a lecture titled “Stable Isotopes and Understanding Present and Past Human Diets.” “Hair is a protein that reflects your diet.

“If you radically changed your diet today, your hair will reflect it in seven days,” Dr. Macko said. “Hair is a continuous tape recorder of your diet.”

Steve MackoWhen it comes to ancient people, anthropologists take diet information and draw astonishing theories about an entire civilization.

“Fundamental to the understanding of human history is the ability to make interpretations based on artifacts and other remains which are used to gather information about an ancient population,” he said. “Sequestered in the organic matrices of these remains can be information, for example, concerning incidence of disease, genetic defects and diet.” 

Dr. Macko is on leave from UVA and working as a program director for the National Science Foundation.

The scientist can tell if his subjects are predators, vegetarians or, in some cases, cheating vegetarians. George Washington had a relatively balanced died of meat, vegetables and dairy, he said.

“He was middle of the road, a centrist,” Dr. Macko quipped. “The perfect man to be father of our country.”

Steve MackoThe celebrated Ice Man, who was discovered in a well preserved condition in the Alps, was an “opportunistic eater,” who ate what was in season, Dr Macko said.

And Diane Sawyer? Dr. Macko said it was a great interview that appeared on Good Morning America.

Dr. Macko has become a celebrity scientist appearing in the award-winning documentary film “King Corn” and on PBS’s “Nature” and The Discovery Channel’s “The Ultimate Guide to Mummies.”

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