ANCIENT POOP may have helped solve a 1,000-year-old mystery about the fall of a long-lost city named Cahokia.
The details of the collapse of the ancient American city have long baffled scientists – but the secret could have been hidden in feces all the time.
Cahokia is a famous town that once existed near St. Louis, Missouri, but had disappeared in the era of European colonization of the United States.
Using traces of human poop and environmental data, scientists were able to uncover a climate disaster and then link it to the population's decline in the city.
Experts now believe that a drought was causing the collapse of Cahokia, which had been abandoned by 1400 AD.
"The way to build population reconstructions usually involves archaeological data, which are distinct from the data being studied by climatologists," said AJ White, senior author of the California State University study in the journal PNAS.
"One involves excavations and a study of archaeological remains and the other of lake cores.
"We unite these two factors by looking at both types of data from the same core of lakes."
Researchers were able to detect "signatures" of human poo in bottom lake sediments collected in Horseshoe Lake near Cahokia.
These "signatures" are known as fecal stanols and are simply molecules produced in the intestine during digestion – and then eliminated in the feces.
When the Cahokians pooped on the mainland, part of it would have sunk into the lake.
And the greater the population of Cahokia at one time, the more obvious the stanols would have been in the lake sediments.
Sediments in lakes accumulate in layers, allowing scientists to capture specific moments using the collected carrots.
The deeper layers formed earlier, so by digging, it is possible to analyze the soil at a later date.
During the study, it appeared that dung trace concentrations rose and fell approximately as estimated by the Cahokia population.
This actually proved that it was possible to track the population using the poop levels in the lake sediment cores.
Professor Sissel Schroeder of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a professor in Cahokia, said that house searches in and around Cahokia show that the human occupation of the site has intensified around 600 AD.
And in 1100, the city – which measured six square miles – had reached its maximum population of tens of thousands.
But around 1200, the population of Cahokia begins to decline and the site is abandoned around 1400.
The environmental data contained in the sediment cores can give clues to the reasons for this situation.
"When we use this method of faecal population, we can make these comparisons with environmental conditions that we have not really been able to do so far," White said.
Information gathered from the carrots suggested that summer rains were reduced at the time of the decline of the Cahokia population.
This could have prevented the Cahokians from growing corn, their basic crop, forcing them to move elsewhere.
This drought could have been the main factor in the collapse of Cahokia, a large American city.
"When we see correlations with the climate, some archaeologists do not think the climate is for anything, but it's hard to maintain this argument when evidence of significant climate change shows that people are facing new challenges." said Schroeder.
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Are you comfortable with the archaeologists of the future who dig up your poo? Let us know in the comments!
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