Are you ready to talk about fossilized poo? Because I am!
That’s right; Coprolites are fossilized or preserved remains of the intestinal contents and excrement of organisms and humans. Simply put, fossilized feces or poop.
The word Coprolite is derived from the Greek words “Kopros Lithos,” which means Dung Stone. Coprolites are the fossilized feces of various animals, dinosaurs, and humans. They’re composed primarily of calcium, phosphates, silicates, and small amounts of organic matter.
Don’t worry about the old scratch and sniff test because if you scratch the specimen it won’t get all over your hands. If you choose to sniff it, because I know you will when no one is looking then you’ll be glad to know there are no smells. However, you will have to keep wondering what dinosaur poo smelled like.
These unique fossils offer scientists direct insights into prehistoric creature’s diets, environments, and behaviors. Coprolites are found on every continent on the planet, and they exist in various sizes and shapes. Many Coprolites are notable for their inclusions, which consist of small fossilized bits of the food and/or materials they consumed. The inclusions can include bones, fins, teeth, scales, claws, parasites, plant fragments, and even traces of muscle tissues.
I bet you didn’t know there was human Coprolite because I wasn’t aware of any until I started doing more research on fossilized dinosaur poo.
For most of the 20th century, the most solid and dependable evidence that gave researchers insight into who the earliest humans in America were and how they lived consisted of 13,000-year-old Clovis points or sharpened stones.
However, everything changed when researchers discovered human Coprolite. Researchers used radiocarbon dating to estimate the fossilized poo found preserved in the arid climate of caves and found that it was over 14,000 years old, which is old enough to predate the Clovis First timeline.
How To Identify Coprolite
Many coprolites have what are considered to be poop shaped. One of the easiest ways to identify a Coprolite specimen is to compare it to the shapes of modern analogs. For instance, the spiral pattern observed on modern shark feces is similar to certain marine Coprolites, and crocodilian specimens look relatively close to those that are fresh.
One of the first and most important things to consider when identifying Coprolites is the locations where it was found. Coprolites won’t be found in an area unless it’s in a geological area or layer where other fossils are found.
While feces can be relatively free-form when exposed to the elements or if digestion issues existed, most are shaped like poo. Fossilized feces can be shaped like spirals, pellets, logs, scrolls, and poo piles. The shape depends on the creature that created it.
Most Coprolites are fine-grained which means if your specimen looks granular under magnification, it is most likely NOT Coprolite. However, there are some exceptions, like marine creatures that feed on coral or bottom sediments, which is why knowing the location is essential.
Many times, Coprolites will have visible inclusion consisting of fish scales, bone fragments, and teeth because they didn’t get fully digested. Some animals ingest stones for ballast or digestive purposes, and they are known as gastroliths. These are fairly easy to identify because they’re generally smooth-looking when compared to bone, scales, and teeth.
Because herbivore scat tends to break apart and decompose quickly, it seldom survives the fossilization process. Meaning that most Coprolite fossils found are from carnivores. This is because carnivores poop is usually high in calcium phosphate, which is the same mineral found in bones. However, it can appear in many forms.
How do you pronounce Coprolite? Kaa-prow-lite.
How Are Coprolites Formed?
Everything poops, right? This is true even when it comes to prehistoric creatures, including everything from crustaceans to dinosaurs that lived on the land and in the sea.
Over the course of any given organism’s lifespan, there are piles of poop that were produced a countless number of times. Unfortunately, for anyone seeking fossilized samples of excrement, poop doesn’t fossilize as well as shells and bones. Ancient feces only fossilized in a mineralizing agent covered it rather quickly after it was produced. If the mineralization was a success and the decomposition of the specimen was avoided, the feces could fossilize, forming a Coprolite.
Largest Coprolite Dinosaur Ever Found
The largest Coprolite that has ever been discovered thus far was 17 inches long and nearly seven inches wide. Because this specimen contained a lot of bones, paleontologists believe it came from a relatively large carnivore. It’s possible that it could be the fossilized feces of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Similar to gemstones and mineral specimens, Coprolites can range in value from a few bucks to many thousands of dollars. For example, in 2014, one of the longest-known Coprolites sold at an auction for over $10,000. That’s a lot of money for a piece of fossilized poop. The size, distinct impressions, ripples, and classic poop appearance are the weighing factors that can make a Coprolite specimen expensive or valuable.
Most rockhounds don’t collect Coprolites because they don’t know they exist. I came across my first piece while attending a rock and mineral show in Cobb County, Georgia. I thought the specimen looked funny and asked the dealer what it was.
“It’s a piece of poop”
Naturally, I had to buy it and from that point forward, I’ve found these fossils to be funny but super interesting at the same time. Next time you’re on the hunt for the latest and greatest mineral specimen, keep an eye out for some really cool-looking poop and you won’t regret adding it to your collection. It makes for a great conversation starter.