As it is Sunday, it's time for a light story. According to a Northern Arizona University (NAU) news release, Jim Read is one of the world's foremost authorities on animal dung. In Been there, dung that, Mead says that 'although I don't think anyone is keeping track, I suspect we have the largest comparative animal dung collection in the world. If someone needs to identify dung, they send it to me.' And by analyzing the thousands of dung pieces in his collection, he has been able to detect the environmental changes that took place on the Colorado Plateau during the last 100,000 years. But read more...
You can see on the left Jim Mead looking at a box of 23,000-year-old archived bison dung that came from a cave in southern Utah. (Credit: Diane Rechel, for NAU) Here is a link to a larger version of this picture.
Jim Mead is the director of NAU's Quaternary Sciences Program. You'll find more information about him in the geology and paleontology pages about him.
Now, let's listen at what Mead has to say about dung. "'Dung is accurate for carbon dating. It's a data set that typically disappears in the fossil record. All we typically get are bones, but with dung we get biochemistry. We can tell a lot about the climate by analyzing what plants the animal ate.' Through the digested plants, scientists can tell what was going on in the environment at the time, such as the amount of rainfall that was occurring. The data help researchers pinpoint when different changes in the environment took place.
NAU's dung collection "includes dung from modern animals to prehistoric ground sloths and 40,000-year-old mammoths." And most of it "is dried and stored wrapped in tissue inside sturdy, archival cardboard boxes." Unfortunately, this collection is not available online -- or I haven't found it.
Anyway, the Inside NAU reporter tells us that when Mead opened a box of chunky 14,000-year-old mammoth dung in front of him, "a slight scent of musty grass escaped." How poetic?
Sources: Inside NAU, Volume 5, Number 6, February 13, 2008; and various websites
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