Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Okay - Poop in the News

I don't know if this is an April Fools joke or not - the article is dated April 2nd. It's certainly fascinating. Who knew? Studying fossilized poop for a living! No photos - gee wonder why??? Wednesday, April 2, 2008 - Page updated at 12:15 PM Fossilized feces found in Oregon suggest earliest human presence in North America By Sandi Doughton Seattle Times science reporter Hold the potty humor, please, but archaeologists digging in a dusty cave in Oregon have unearthed fossilized feces that appear to be oldest biological evidence of humans in North America. The ancient poop dates back 14,300 years. If the results hold up, that means the continent was populated more than 1,000 years before the so-called Clovis culture, long believed to be the first Americans. "This adds to a growing body of evidence that the human presence in the Americas predates Clovis," said Michael Waters, an anthropologist at Texas A&M University who was not involved in the project. DNA analysis of the dried excrement shows the people who lived in the caves were closely related to modern Native Americans. Their genetic roots reach across the Bering Strait to Siberia and eastern Asia. "These are probably the ancestors of some of the Native Americans living in America now," said Eske Willerslev, director of the Centre for Ancient Genetics at the University of Copenhagen. He co-authored the report that appears in today's online Science Express. The age of the finding also calls into question the theory that people who crossed the Bering Land Bridge to Alaska migrated south through ice-free corridors as glaciers began to break up. Geological evidence suggests the corridors weren't open 14,300 years ago, though the glaciers had pulled back from the coasts. "People probably came either by boat or maybe even walking along the West Coast," Willerslev said. Before the Oregon discovery, the oldest human remains in North America were two sets of bones about 13,000 years old from California and Nevada. Kennewick Man, the skeleton found on the banks of the Columbia River in Eastern Washington, dates to 9,400 years ago. Willerslev acknowledged that working with feces lacks the cache of studies on skulls or spear-tips. He and his collaborators say their subject matter drew jokesters like flies are drawn to ... well, you know. "I've heard it all," said Dennis Jenkins, the University of Oregon archaeologist who led the excavations. "My colleagues call me Dr. Poop." But coprolites, as fossil dung is called in polite scientific society, can be a trove of information on diet and genetics. Jenkins and his students uncovered hundreds of coprolites in their six years of work at Paisley Caves, about 220 miles southeast of Portland as the crow flies. Rest of article.

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