Natural Resources, School of


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Chapter 7 from BIGHORN CAVE: Test Excavation of a Stratified Dry Shelter Mohave County, Arizona, edited by Phil R. Geib and Donald R. Keller. BILBY RESEARCH CENTER OCCASIONAL PAPERS NO. 1 (2002).


© 2002 by the Ralph M. Bilby Research Center, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff.


Coprolite analysis, as reviewed by Reinhard and Bryant (1992), contributes unique and detailed information regarding diet and parasitic disease. We present here an analysis of dietary components of coprolites from Bighorn Cave using macroscopic remains, pollen concentrations, and phytoliths. In addition, we analyzed Bighorn Cave coprolites for evidence of parasitic organisms, especially intestinal worms. Such analyses of coprolites have become important methods for reconstructing past dietary and medicinal practices. Pollen concentration and phytolith quantification techniques have recently been developed, but until this report no known attempt has been made to synthesize pollen, macroscopic, and phytolith data from a single coprolite series.

The pollen analysis demonstrates that the prehistoric inhabitants of the cave lived in a xeric environment but utilized nearby water sources. The presence of Acer, Salix, Populus, Typha, and Carex pollen demonstrates the use of wet environments. The analysis shows that at least one of these genera, Salix, was of dietary use. An overall dry environment is indicated by Ephedra, Yucca, Artemisia, Prosopis, Acacia, Larrea, Juniperus, Sphaeralcea, and Opuntia. Of these plants, Yucca, Opuntia, and Ephedra were eaten. Prosopis was also consumed but the evidence for this comes from phytoliths and macroplant remains. Other dietary plants that could be from either environment include mustard, grass, and Cheno- Am.