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Using Viking poop to understand climate change

The Boston Globe has posted an interesting article about geoscientist Robert D’Anjou, who is looking for Viking excrement in order to better understand ancient climate change.

Scientists often search for pollen, for example, but changes in plant life can be a sign not only of climate change, but agriculture. Similarly, erosion could reflect changes caused by climate fluctuations—droughts that killed plants that held soil in place, for example—but could also be caused by the introduction of livestock or changing land use.

So he began examining the sediments in detail, and found that coprostanols, molecules produced in human guts as people digest cholesterol, could be used in combination with other more commonly used molecular remains to look at the interactions between humans and their environments. The results, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest a possible new approach to understanding the relationship between prehistoric humans and their environment. Still, D’Anjou has kept a sense of humor about the whole project.

[Full story]

Story: Carolyn Y. Johnson, Boston Globe | Photo: UMass Amherst

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