Fossilized feces testify to earliest Americans

Fourteen coprolites (i.e., fossilized poop) found by archaeologists in an Oregon cave indicate that humans were living in North America a thousand years earlier than previously thought.

The dumps in question were taken 14,300 years ago, which means people were doing their business in the Pacific Northwest when much of Canada and the northern US was still covered in glaciers.

The new research doesn’t set an exact arrival date for humans, but it shakes up long-held assumptions – especially the notion, still dear to many archeologists, that humans couldn’t have punched past the glaciers covering nearly all of present-day Canada and the northern United States much before 13,000 years ago. That’s when warming would have allowed easier transit across a land bridge from Siberia and into the heart of the new continent by interior passageways.

Because this research puts humans in the New World more or less concurrent with the ice wall, the find supports emerging theories that the first Americans followed a rugged, coast-hugging route down the Pacific Northwest – perhaps coursing from peninsula to peninsula in primitive watercraft.

We were a tough bunch back in the day, weren’t we? I’m reluctant to walk down my outside staircase when there’s a light dusting of snow on them.

Anyway, there is some debate about whether the mitochondrial DNA found in cast-off digestive tract cells in the coprolites was actually a more recent contamination of the site, but the find seems solid and it casts a whole new light on the archaeological record of human life in the Americas.

9 thoughts on “Fossilized feces testify to earliest Americans

  1. Coprolites? Cool, always glad to learn a new word. If I may stoop to scatology (in its number 2 definition) in your erudite blog . . . this fossilized coprolite story reminds me how, as little kids, we called hard, old, white poop on the sidewalk “petrified dog doo.” :giggle:
    But now you make me wonder: Since that was in Chicago, maybe it was actually FROZEN old poop.

    1. We called it “petrified dog poo” too, and I grew up in Rome so it most definitely wasn’t frozen. 😆

      Did your parents put you on canine coprolite clean-up duty too? Not my favorite chore, let me tell you. :angry:

  2. In Rome? Oh lucky you!
    No, no clean-up chores for me as a kid, since we had no dog. (Pets being verboten in American apartments.) But decades later at Heifer Ranch in Arkansas ( I learned to love cleaning up after donkeys, horses, cattle, pigs, chickens, rabbits, water buffalo, camels, llamas, goats, and sheep.
    There it is called manure, one of the Five M’s.

    1. Oh, I’ve lived in the States for 20 years now (my parents are both American), but I’ve been lucky enough to stay in apartments that allow pets. 😀

      I can’t believe you worked for the Heifer Project! It’s my favorite charity of all time. When my grandmother was getting on in years and was giving away a lot of her accumulated stuff, I started giving Heifer donations in her name for her birthdays and they were her favorite presents. She always looked forward to seeing which animals I picked each year.

  3. liv, I suspect you’re tough as a paleo-cave-pooper, deep down. If you hadn’t et in a week, and that outside staircase was swarming with salmon, you’d walk down it on your hands in a blizzard.

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