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A Matter of Perspective

Today, we are going to approach a subject that isn’t usually discussed. We are going to talk about poop. But not very much, well, because that’s just gross.

I recently read an article in my Atlas Obscura newsletter that was named, “What Poop Can Teach Us About an Ancient City’s Downfall: Cahokia’s decline is at least partially a story of climate change.” The story was written by Matthew Taub.

He starts his story off with the line, “Never underestimate the power of poop.”

Basically, the story is about the rise and demise of an ancient city Cahokia which was situated about 10 miles outside of present day St. Louis, Missouri.

Researchers were curious to see why this city grew so large and then, within 300 years time, was nearly vacant.


They checked out the ancient deposits of—you guessed it—poop.

The researchers examined two sediment cores and looked at the “fecal stanols” which are traces of human poop.

By comparing the two cores, they found that, “the younger the sediments got, the heavier their oxygen concentrations—meaning that water was evaporating along with lighter forms of oxygen. In other words, there was probably less precipitation during Cahokia’s later years—when we know from excavations that fewer people were living there—thus impeding local agriculture and causing the population to thin out. The fall of Cahokia, it seems, is at least partially a story of climate change. It’s a tale that’s been told by other poops as well, such as those of Incan llamas in the Andes.”

I don’t know about you, but I really find this interesting. Not that I want to go digging around in poop, but to find out things about our history or the history of a region by examining something as ordinary as poop, that’s intriguing. (I’ll leave the examining to the researchers and archeologists, though.)

I guess the “Everybody Poops” saying takes on new meaning when we think back on our ancestors and learn about them through the examination of something like this.

I wonder what stories our “remains” will tell future generations?

Probably that we ate a lot of fast “food” which will never deteriorate because of all the chemicals and preservatives in it!

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