Scientists digging around a Neanderthal campfire site in Spain called El Salt, may have discovered what they believe could be the oldest human poop. Presumably when one scientist dug a little too carelessly and then became the brunt of many jokes.
|Shitting right by their campfire...no wonder they died out.|
This isn't any old feces though, because other than it being really, really, old, analysis of the waste may shed some new light onto the actual diet of the ancient Neanderthals. The analysis, published this week in the scientific journal PLOS One, indicates that Neanderthals may have enjoyed not a purely carnivorous diet as believed, but could have been omnivorous.
The poop itself, as reported by USA Today, is 50,000 years old. So far the definite oldest waste.
The poop samples come from rock layers dated to roughly 50,000 years ago. That's far older than other ancient wastes, such as those found at Turkey's Catalhöyük, one of the world's earliest large villages, dating back 6,000 to 7,000 years, and what might be 14,000-year-old human coprolites at a cave in Oregon.
The age is not being debated, what is interesting about the waste is the discovery that the gastronomical habits of the ancient humans did not limit them to meat.
If the discovery is truly a prehistoric latrine – a claim that has provoked skepticism among other researchers – it contradicts the pop-culture image of Neanderthals as hunters who subsisted on hunks of flesh. Two of the new poop samples contain the chemical footprints of both meat and plant consumption, providing the earliest known evidence that humans were omnivores who ate significant quantities of plant-based food.
But they might not even be plants. Maybe. Ainara Sistiaga, an organic chemistry and Paleolithic archaeology researcher at MIT and the lead author of the study, told the Los Angeles Timesthat what they identified as plants in the feces may have come from Neanderthals eating the stomachs of other animals that do eat plants. Though she remains optimistic.
Or it could not be human shit at all...analyzing old stuff is hard:
Other researchers call the new study intriguing but far from airtight. The compounds measured by Sistiaga and her colleagues have probably degraded over time, making them unreliable as indicators of human feces, says Michael Richards of the University of British Columbia. The study does not rule out bears, which are also omnivorous, as the source of the coprolites, says Hervé Bocherens of the University of Tübingen in Germany.
Now is the part where you smirk at the idea of many smart people debating and studying poop. Then realize that it actually is interesting. Science!