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Forensics Professor Detects Blood on Revolutionary War Projectiles

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As part of a grant-funded project to study documentary and archaeological evidence from the Bennington Battlefield in Walloomsac, N.Y., Yeshion analyzed 136 Revolutionary War musket balls, buckshot and slugs with Luminol, a chemical used to detect trace amounts of blood.

The projectiles were found 6 to 12 inches below ground using metal detectors. Carefully labeled by type and location, and classified as fired or unfired, they were sent for analysis by Yeshion, who has more than 40 years of experience as a forensic scientist, crime laboratory director, special agent and forensic consultant.

Of the 97 projectiles determined to have been fired, seven buckshot tested positive for the presence of blood. A sample of the unfired projectiles was also tested as a negative control to ensure that nothing in the metal or soil would produce a false positive reaction.

Using his results and other archaeological information as a guide, field archaeologists will plot the locations from which the buckshot were recovered and incorporate the information in their attempt to prepare a comprehensive account of the battle.

Fought in August 1777, the Battle of Bennington was a clash between the British forces of Gen. John Burgoyne and Col. Friedrich Baum and Colonial forces under Brig. Gen. John Stark and Col. Seth Warner. The British were overwhelmingly defeated, contributing to Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga, N.Y., two months later.

Yeshion was contacted to assist in the area of blood detection because of his reputation and experience as an expert in forensic analysis and using Luminol as a presumptive blood test.

“Luminol is a highly sensitive presumptive blood test used in criminal case investigations to detect trace amounts of blood that often has been cleaned up by a perpetrator,” Yeshion said of the process he used.

He has successfully used Luminol to find blood in criminal cases as old as 20 years, on the Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg, Pa., and on artifacts that were carbon-dated to be between 5,000 and 10,000 years old.

He conducted the Bennington Battlefield projectile analysis in the presence of his Advanced Criminalistics class in November. Yeshion provided the Luminol reagents and did not charge a fee for this service.

“It is important for me to expose students to actual analysis,” Yeshion said. “It is important for them to see how this can be done, whether the evidence in question is from a current crime scene or a 238-year-old forensic reconstruction.”

Yeshion is a founding fellow of the Edinboro University Institute for Forensic Sciences, an interdisciplinary institute formed to provide excellence in undergraduate education and training in the forensic sciences. It draws on faculty from diverse academic disciplines, including criminal justice, anthropology and art.

The Institute also brings together a number of Edinboro educational and research facilities, including the Forensic Sciences and Crime Scene Investigation labs, the Anthropological Research Center and Archaeology Lab, and the Digital Imaging Lab. By promoting faculty and student research and providing opportunities for students to engage in real-world forensic projects, the Institute is able to enhance the educational experience for students interested in a multitude of forensic disciplines.