Documenting the rise and fall of populations through human poop


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.

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:  North Dakota fossil site may be 'most sensational' glimpse of final minutes of dinosaur reign

[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
Talking Biotech
Genetics Unzipped
can you boost your immune system to prevent coronavirus spread x

Video: How to boost your immune system to guard against COVID and other illnesses

Scientists have recently developed ways to measure your immune age. Fortunately, it turns out your immune age can go down ...
mag insects image superjumbo v

Disaster interrupted: Which farming system better preserves insect populations: Organic or conventional?

A three-year run of fragmentary Armageddon-like studies had primed the journalism pumps and settled the media framing about the future ...
dead bee desolate city

Are we facing an ‘Insect Apocalypse’ caused by ‘intensive, industrial’ farming and agricultural chemicals? The media say yes; Science says ‘no’

The media call it the “Insect Apocalypse”. In the past three years, the phrase has become an accepted truth of ...
globalmethanebudget globalcarbonproject cropped x

Infographic: Cows cause climate change? Agriculture scientist says ‘belching bovines’ get too much blame

A recent interview by Caroline Stocks, a UK journalist who writes about food, agriculture and the environment, of air quality ...
organic hillside sweet corn x

Organic v conventional using GMOs: Which is the more sustainable farming?

Many consumers spend more for organic food to avoid genetically modified products in part because they believe that “industrial agriculture” ...
benjamin franklin x

Are most GMO safety studies funded by industry?

The assertion that biotech companies do the research and the government just signs off on it is false ...
gmo corn field x

Do GMO Bt (insect-resistant) crops pose a threat to human health or the environment?

Bt is a bacterium found organically in the soil. It is extremely effective in repelling or killing target insects but ...

Environmental Working Group: EWG challenges safety of GMOs, food pesticide residues

Known by some as the "Environmental Worrying Group," EWG lobbies for tighter GMO legislation and famously puts out annual "dirty dozen" list of fruits and ...
m hansen

Michael Hansen: Architect of Consumers Union ongoing anti-GMO campaign

Michael K. Hansen (born 1956) is thought by critics to be the prime mover behind the ongoing campaign against agricultural biotechnology at Consumer Reports. He is an ...
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
Optional. Mail on special occasions.
Send this to a friend