What can archaeologists learn about people from their droppings?
Peter, 10, Web post
Dr. dig responds:
Archaeologists have given the remains of ancient poop a special name: they
call them coprolites. The word comes from two ancient Greek words: copros, meaning poop, and lithos, meaning stone. Coprolites usually contain the preserved material from the last meal that a person or animal ate. Ancient poop is really interesting because archaeologists can see tiny things in it under a microscope, such as seeds and grains, meat fibers, and possibly also bits of bone. Recognizable plant material can indicate where the person lived Meat fibers and bone can help archaeologists understand how people managed the environment to survive‹did they move around and hunt for food or had they settled down in a village and domesticated their animals, such as
cows, sheep, or pigs.
Poop can also indicate the health of a person. Did a person suffer from worms and parasites? If so, the eggs of the worms may have survived and they can be identified. Poop may be really gross, but it can give us the scoop on a life from the past!
NOTE: For much more on "ancient poop," check out the July/August 2002