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The role of coprolite analysis in archaeology

... Progressive and largely uninterrupted aridification of the Lower Pecos throughout the Early and Middle Archaic periods (~9000 to 4500 years BP) limited the available plant and animal resources to xeric-adapted species (Story and Bryant, 1966;Williams-Dean, 1978;Reinhard et al., 2007;Riley, 2012). Small rodents, lagomorphs, fish and reptiles, and several species of desert succulents were the primary food resources for inhabitants of the Lower Pecos (Bryant, 1974b;Williams-Dean, 1978;Stock, 1983;Reinhard et al., 2007;Riley, 2008;Jurgens, 2008). Indigenous populations might have encountered deer occasionally, but the faunal record shows that this was a relatively rare occurrence (Alexander, 1974). ...
... While the term "coprolite" was originally attributed to mineralized animal fecal matter, it has been more commonly applied to desiccated or frozen human or animal feces, often from archaeological contexts (Heizer and Napton, 1969;Williams-Dean, 1978). The utility of coprolite analysis for the reconstruction of human diets has long been recognized in this region (Fry and Hall, 1975;Fry, 1977;Alexander, 1970;Bryant, 1974b;Williams-Dean, 1978;Stock, 1983;Sobolik, 1991a;Riley, 2008;Tito et al., 2011). ...
... Analysis of this coprolite was completed as part of a larger project to re-analyze the excavated components of Conejo Shelter (Sonderman, 2018). This coprolite was processed following Bryant (1974b) and Williams-Dean (1978). A photograph of the coprolite taken prior to analysis is shown in Fig. 2. The specimen was first bisected along its longest axis. ...
This paper presents an analysis of the floral and faunal remains of a single human coprolite recovered from Conejo Shelter, Texas (41VV162). The unique contents of this specimen warrant full description. Floral macrobotanical analysis revealed a high density of Agave lechuguilla and Dasylirion spp. fibers. Calcium oxalate crystals confirm the ingestion of Opuntia. Palynological analysis found evidence for a variety of plants with known economic and medicinal uses, with pollen from the Liliaceae (new: Asparagales) family predominating. Zooarchaeological analysis found the remains of a small rodent, evidently eaten whole, with no indication of preparation or cooking. Notably, the bones, scales and a fang of a snake in the Viperidae family were also recovered from the coprolite, which is the first direct archaeological evidence of venomous snake consumption known to the researchers. With the exception of the Viperidae remains, the coprolite evidence is consistent with previous research at Conejo Shelter and the Lower Pecos region. Recently assayed radiocarbon samples from this coprolite and a second, unprocessed coprolite from the same archaeological provenience produced a date range of 1460-1528 cal BP. Future analyses of coprolites from this lens and the surrounding contexts will further our current understanding of this unique gastrological event and better situate it in the context of diet patterns and paleoenvironmental adaptions in the Lower Pecos.
... are classified as "economic pollen" and they yield information about the diet or other ethnobotanical usage of the plant. On the other hand, the pollen content of the atmosphere is unintentionally incorporated in the food residue by breathing or drinking water.These pollen are defined as "background pollen" which reflect the general composition of the vegetation in which the man lived.This classification proposed by Bryant (1974) is also used in the following. ...
Three surgical interventions on the Tyrolean Iceman “Ötzi” conducted in 1995, 1997 and 2000 resulted in the collection of five ingesta samples. These samples constitute a sequence from different consecutive locations of the intestinal tract: the ileum, the transverse and descendent colon, as well as the rectum. The samples encompass at least three different meals consumed of the Iceman during his last two days, which is shown by numerical analysis of the pollen flora and muscle fibres incorporated in the different ingesta samples. The macro and pollen analyses of these samples reveal that the Iceman consumed a well balanced omnivore diet. Surprising is the strong correlation between bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) spores and human whipworm (Trichuris trichiura) eggs as well as wheat (Triticum) pollen. This indicates an intentional consumption of bracken as anthelminthic or as starch plant.
... Both papers are based on using a fusion of various microscopic methods. Microscopy has been used in dietary reconstruction since the inception of coprolite analysis (Bryant, 1974). It allows for the observation, imaging, and identification of a myriad of microscopic elements, including but certainly not limited to parasites, plant debris, silica, entomological elements, and pollen grains. ...
In the two papers that comprise this thesis, I will discuss the dietary complexes of two separate Southwestern archaeological sites excavated in the 20th century through the medium of coprolite analysis. The fusion of microscopy techniques in this project expands the capability of observation and identification of microremains and their use in reconstructing the dietary habits of past peoples. I intend to highlight the value of integrating three separate methods of microscopy for the identification of diet and any practices for using that information to narrow down a coprologically unstudied site location for samples of lost provenience. Additionally, this project aims to construct dietary habits from both sites to continue the discussion of Southwestern paleonutrition and cultivation methods. Chapter three discusses the Dyck Cliff Dwelling (DCD), occupied between A.D. 1000-1300. This site was the focus of a decade-long field excavation, but this is the first dietary reconstruction based on microscopic and macroscopic remains in coprolites. This evidence revealed a broad nutritional diet of agricultural produce augmented by wild food resources. Consumption and horticultural practices are indicated through these pieces of information. In the fourth chapter, I examine the Arid West Cave (AWC), a site discussed by Wibowo, et al. (2021) in an article about the human gut and ancient microbial genomes. A place of origin for this cave is never given; two potential areas are mentioned as candidates, but true identification of origin is never researched. Therefore, the second paper in this thesis aims to identify the origin for these samples, at least in general terms, in addition to the analysis of the dietary remains. Historical literature and comparative dietary material with other Southwestern sites narrowed down the potential location of these unidentified samples. In addition to illustrating technical methods, this thesis expands upon the discussion of paleonutrition in the Southwest and the variety of cultivation practices and recipes that develop through the chronological history of Puebloan peoples. Advisor: Phil Geib
... Coprolite analysis is a valuable tool for exploring ancient diets, food choices, and diseases of both humans and animals. Through the identification and analysis of the macro-and micro-remains as well as the non-organic compounds in fossil coprolites, it also offers clues about the physical environment related to the seasonality of site occupation and paleoenvironmental conditions (Bryant, 1974;Reinhard and Bryant, 1992). ...
Sixteen coprolites from the Chinese Neolithic sites of Yuhuicun and Houtieying, Anhui Province, were analysed for pollen and lipid biomarkers. Steroid compounds provide evidence that the excrements originated from dogs and humans. Distribution patterns of n-alkanes and n-fatty alcohols indicate three sources: microorganisms, animal fats and plant wax lipids, further related to intestinal microbes, animal- and plant-derived food. Extremely high frequencies of Quercus pollen may refer to seasonal habitat for hunting activities with the assistance of dogs. High proportions of miliacin point to the consumption of millets.
... Coprolites (paleofeces) dating betweeñ 5700 and 3200 calendar years before present (cal BP) are preserved in large quantities at the mouth of cave 5. As one of the most direct sources of unambiguous dietary information (Bryant 1974a;Heizer and Napton 1969;Reinhard and Bryant 1992), these coprolites provide a unique view of food economies, foraging choices, and health of cave inhabitants throughout two millennia. ...
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Multiproxy data from coprolites at the Connley Caves in central Oregon provide new evidence for diet, seasonal subsistence strategies, and human health during the middle and late Holocene. Macrobotanical, palynological, and faunal components show that plant taxa from wetland and dryland habitats functioned as dietary staples. Repeated and abundant representation of wetland resources coupled with small dryland seeds provide strong evidence for dietary continuity between ~ 5700 and 3200 calendar years ago. Seasonal availability of represented taxa indicates late summer and early fall habitation. Minimal evidence for parasitic infection and unusual constituents such as cordage raise questions regarding health and cultural behavior. As the first coprolite analysis for this time period in the northern Great Basin, this study contributes unique datasets that complement and clarify the regional understanding of hunter-gatherer settlement-subsistence strategies and food economy.
... 10) collected from Wadi Zeitan representing the recent pollen rain in the immediate landscape. Sampling strategies and techniques followed Bryant (1974aBryant ( , 1974b. Pollen extraction followed the physical-chemical preparation procedure of Stockmarr (1971): one Lycopodium clavatum C. Linnaeus tablet (10,679 ± 953 spores in average; Batch Number 3862) was added to each sample in order to calculate pollen concentrations. ...
This article presents a systematic methodological comparison of three archaeobotanical proxies (phytoliths, pollen and seeds) applied to an assemblage of dung pellets and corresponding archaeological refuse deposits from Early Islamic contexts at the site of Shivta. We set out with three main methodological questions: one, to evaluate the relative input of botanical remains from dung in refuse assemblages; two, to evaluate each archaeobotanical dataset and to test whether they are comparable, complementary or contradictory in their interpretations from dung; and three, infer herding practices at the site during the Early Islamic period. Our findings show that ovicaprine dung accumulated in Early Islamic Shivta during at least two periods: mid-7th–mid-8th centuries CE, and late-8th–mid-10th centuries CE. Methodologically, we see incomplete and incompatible reconstructions arise when each method is considered alone, with each proxy possessing its own advantages and limitations. Specifically, the amount of preserved seeds in dung pellets is low, which restricts statistical analysis and tends to emphasize small or hard-coated seeds and vegetation fruiting season; yet this method has the highest taxonomic power; pollen preserves only in uncharred pellets, emphasizes the flowering season and has an intermediate taxonomic value; phytoliths have the lowest taxonomic value yet complete the picture of livestock feeding habits by identifying leaf and stem remains, some from domestic cereals, which went unnoticed in both seed and pollen analyses. The combined archaeobotanical reconstruction from samples of the mid-7th–mid-8th centuries suggests that spring-time herding at Shivta was based on free-grazing of wild vegetation, supplemented by chaff and/or hay from domestic cereals. For the late-8th–mid-10th century samples, phytolith and pollen reconstruction indicates autumn-winter free-grazing with no evidence of foddering. Unlike the dung pellets, macrobotanical remains in the refuse deposits included domestic as well as wild taxa, the former mainly food plants that serve for human consumption. Plant remains in these refuse deposits originate primarily from domestic trash and are only partially composed of dung remains. The significance of this study is not only in its general methodological contribution to archaeobotany, but also to lasting discussions regarding the contribution of dung remains to archaeological deposits used for seed, pollen and phytolith analyses. We offer here a strong method for determining whether deposits derive from dung alone, are mixed, or absolutely do not contain dung. This has important ramifications for archaeological interpretation.
The present study has two main goals. The first is to reconstruct the botanical components that grew in the impressive garden of Villa Arianna (Stabiae). The garden, which was extensively destroyed and covered by tephra ash in 79 CE, is considered the largest peristyle garden in the Vesuvian region. Its plants were revealed based on a unique palynological-archaeological method involving the extraction of pollen from plaster attached to structures that faced the garden. The second aim is to compare this prestigious garden with other early elite Roman gardens, located in the eastern part of the Empire, to trace the importation of plants, horticultural trends, etc. For this purpose, gardens of Herod the Great, the client king of Judaea, which the author recently studied palynologically (in Caesarea, Herodium and Jericho), were compared with the new pollen results of Villa Arianna. The comparison between the gardens’ botanical components and their different landscapes led to the following conclusions: (1) Plants were imported from both ends of the Empire as elite products (rather than cash crops). Hazelnut (Corylus) and cedar (Cedrus) were introduced from west to east, while the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) was introduced along an east-west axis. (2) The gardening trend of tree dwarfism was observed both at Villa Arianna and Jericho. (3) The gardens flourished in challenging habitats. At Villa Arianna and Caesarea, efforts were devoted to sustaining splendid gardens in the relatively harsh, saline Mediterranean Sea environment; at Herodium and Jericho, special efforts were required for the success of Mediterranean plants in semi-arid climate. (4) Herod’s mausoleum garden in Herodium, whose dark evergreen trees on the whitish slopes of the artificial tumulus could be seen from the Temple in Jerusalem, may have been inspired by the architectural arrangement of the Pantheon and the Mausoleum of Augustus, the patron of Herod.
This chapter synthesises the most common processing techniques applied to palynomorphs and their known issues. We primarily focus on NPPs, but include studies on pollen grains where the information might be relevant. An overview of recent (2017-2019) NPP publications is used to connect the most common techniques to known taphonomic issues. Finally, general recommendations are made to minimise processing bias and maximise NPP recovery.
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