Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version


Document Type



Renanalysis and Reinterpretation in Southwestern Bioarcheology, 2008


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. This is not easy to do: very few coprolites have what might be considered a "characteristic shape and size." In our experience, the majority of coprolites are usually fragmented, flattened by age, or in many cases are preserved as amorphous masses of various sizes similar in shape to ''patties'' left behind by cattle. These flat, amorphous human coprolites are especially common in sites used by foragers with diets very high in plant fiber. Coprolites and coprolite fragments are sometimes collected in situ during archaeological excavations, but most often they are found during screening, when dirt is being separated from artifacts. If unrecognized, coprolites may be crushed into dust, along with clods of dirt, and their contents lost.