Monday, September 24, 2012

Paleofeces

Paleofeces - preserved human poop - is a generous archaeological resource. There is a lot of it, and it contains well-preserved DNA, from which we can glean much about our ancient ancestors and what they ate. Evolutionary biologists Hendrik Poinar of McMaster University and Svante Paabo of the Max Planck institute were the first to recover DNA from animal poop (coprolites) in 1998, and then from the human poop recovered from Hinds Cave in what is now southwestern Texas (images above). The cave contained 2,000 of the "nonhardened fossils," deposited as long as 9,000 years ago. Of the 5 samples they initially examined and sequenced, they determined that the Native Americans had ingested, among other things, buckthorn, acorns, sunflower, cacti, legumes, yuccas, elm, mice, fish, cottontail rabbit, packrat, squirrel, sheep, and pronghom antelope. The varied diet caused them to rethink the idea that ancient hunter-gatherers subsisted on a poor diet heavily dependent on foraged berries - especially since such diverse foods had all been eaten in the 2 days or so before defecation. It was just the beginning for Poinar, who says,  "A bone now is completely boring to me. Because the bone gives the DNA of the organism itself, but the coprolite gives the DNA of the organism, what it ate, of any parasites he may have harbored. I mean it's a plethora of information." From the Hinds Cave poop, Poinar was able to extract 8,000-year-old DNA. He hopes to test 50,000-year-old Neanderthal feces from a Spanish cave near Gibraltar and 250,000-year-old Homo erectus feces from China.
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1 comment:

  1. From lowly turds come mighty discoveries!

    ReplyDelete

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