A. J. Walker joins me today to discuss ancient poop. Want to know more? Of course you do! Take it, A.J.
Coprolites: the fascinating story of ancient poop
Archaeology can be a crap job, but getting through the crap can be very rewarding.
Case in point: during excavations in York, England, back in the 1970s, archaeologists uncovered several buildings and streets from the old Viking town of Jórvík. They also found an outhouse with a giant, dried turd, or what scientists like to call a “coprolite”.
While such a find brings a spate of crude jokes and fervent handwashing to any archaeological team, coprolites can be very important for understanding ancient behavior. By examining coprolites, archaeologists can determine the person’s diet and health. The proud creator of this particular coprolite ate very little in the way of fruit or vegetables, preferring meat and grain instead. Hundreds of eggs of a parasitic worm showed he was eating for more than one.
The find also revealed that there was some grunting and groaning coming from the outhouse that day. The coprolite measures a whopping nine inches long and was probably bigger when it was still damp. It may hold the record for the largest human paleofeces ever found—a claim to fame that any archaeologist would want on his resume.
Coprolites are fairly common finds for those archaeologists brave enough to dig down into old outhouses. The term also applies to fully fossilized dinosaur turds. These have given us insights into dino diet and disease.
Just goes to show that even the most humble object can be important.