Documenting the rise and fall of populations through human poop

ancient

The city that vanished about 700 years ago presents a captivating question for archaeologists: What happened to the Mississippian people who built Cahokia?

Researchers can survey the domestic architecture and estimate the number of people living in houses, or look at the density of artifacts like pottery fragments, or even count burials in cemeteries (when they exist). But these methods are proxy measurements that rely on estimation. What scientists really need is a compound left behind by humans living on the landscape, something that could reflect the size of the population as it rose and fell.

Something like a special molecule found in human poop.

ADVERTISEMENT

Just such a biomarker is the subject of a recent paper authored by White and colleagues and published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. The researchers looked at the effectiveness of measuring coprostanol—a molecule of partially digested cholesterol produced in the human gut—as a way to measure the changing population of Cahokia. To their delight, the amount of coprostanol extracted from sediment cores taken from nearby Horseshoe Lake closely tracked with the population trends indicated by the archaeological record.

Related article:  Thinking like mom: Fatherhood makes male brains more maternal

[A]s the catalogue of fecal remnants grows, perhaps the byproducts of human waste will tell us as much about historic populations as buried houses and potsherds.

Read full, original post: How the Remnants of Human Poop Could Help Archaeologists Study Ancient Populations

Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
GLP Podcasts
Infographic: Here’s where GM crops are grown around the world today

Infographic: Here’s where GM crops are grown around the world today

Do you know where biotech crops are grown in the world? This updated ISAAA infographics show where biotech crops were ...
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
glp menu logo outlined

Newsletter Subscription

* indicates required
Email Lists
Send this to a friend