Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Unlovely specimens

Me breaking free
I've been in this writing business for a while now and I'm still learning.
For instance, did you know that some of the most valuable information archeaologists get is from ancient people's spit and, uh, you-know-what?
(I learned this while exploring the Danger and Jukebox Caves near Wendover this past weekend with the state archeaologists.)
It seems when old Indian men and women chewed on tough grasses and weeds the grass and weed eventually worked down to a sort of gummy wad that provided some nutrients for a while.
After they spit the wad out, it stayed around on the ground until dust and other debris covered it up and preserved it.
Now scientists can go back to these things (called quids) and analyze the DNA to find out all sorts of stuff.
It's quite remarkable really.
And since there are tens of thousands in the caves, they're considered part of a treasure trove.
I just couldn't help sort of silently gagging at the thought.
But even more unappealing are the coprolites — bits of fossilized dung left over from both animals and humans who lived hundreds and thousands of years back.
Plastic gloves please
Apparently there's a wealth of information in these "unlovely specimens."
Research gurus can tell what the people ate, what diseases they carried and how they died. They can unearth all sorts of valuable clues if you can get past what coprolites really are.
The coprolite the assistant state archeaologist held up for us to see was full of fibrous materials.
Looked to me like the guy it came from was on a Shredded Wheat diet.
What a legacy to leave.

1 comment:

  1. Not enjoyable to contemplate, but nevertheless using the techniques that require us to give specimens in order to determine if we are well or ill.