Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version

February 2008


Paper in Press - Reinhard KJ, Bryant VM (2008) Pathoecology and the Future of Coprolite Studies. In (Ann W. M. Stodder. ed.) Bioarchaeology, in: Reanalysis and Reinterpretation in Southwestern Bioarchaeology. Arizona State University Press: Tempe (manuscript accepted for 2008 publication).


Human coprolites currently provide an expanding array of information about the diet, health, and ecology of prehistoric people in the Southwest, but for many years coprolites were not recognized or preserved, or they were not considered important and thus were not saved (Bryant and Dean 2006). With the expansion of archaeological field work during the last half of the twentieth century archaeologists have increasingly explored the “complete” potentials of sites, including the collection and analysis of geomorphologic, botanical, and faunal data. In some ideal habitats (e.g., very dry or frozen) this includes exploring the scientific potential of human coprolite studies.

Pathoecology is the study of the environmental determinants of disease (Martinson et al. 2003; Reinhard 2008a, 2008b). These include human factors such as crowding, sanitation, hygiene, and trade. They also include biotic factors such as presence of pathogens, disease reservoirs, and intermediate hosts. Finally, physical factors such as climate and soil conditions can be studied. Pathoecology began to emerge in the Southwest with the establishment of a link between the emergence of parasitic disease and Ancestral Pueblo cultural development (Reinhard 1988b).

As demonstrated by our discussion of past studies, the combined theoretical approach to pathoecology combined with the data and methodologies derived from coprolite research are essential elements for Southwestern bioarchaeology. Currently, the greatest need is to refine certain areas of this research.
There are potential bioarchaeological applications that can be gained from studies of coprolite analyses. Nevertheless, before bioarchaeologists can discover and apply these applications to answer questions, they will need to become familiar with the pathoecological approach to coprolite analysis. Once this “marriage” has been achieved, questions can be asked and testable hypotheses developed for coprolite studies. In summary, we firmly believe that the field of bioarchaeology must broaden its scope to include coprology as one of its central tools. In essence, it must become the “host” for the further development of coprolite research.