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Surprising Science

Researchers Learn About Ancient Caribbean Cultures Through Fossilized Feces

A team of archaeologists and biologists in Puerto Rico have solved a mystery about the genetic origins of ancient Caribbean civilizations by analyzing fossilized dung.

The things we do for science.

Raul Cano, a retired biology professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, recently led a team of researchers on a trip to Puerto Rico’s Vieques Island to study fossilized feces in hopes of learning more about the diets and genetic origins of the ancient people who lived there 2000 years ago. Nick Wilson of the San Luis Obispo Tribune explains how Cano’s work helped solve a much-debated mystery about two of the region’s major indigenous ancestors:

“Archaeologists have long debated whether the Huecoid and Saladoid cultures, which co-existed on the island, were related or if their origins were linked. Cano’s research determined that they weren’t. The team studied the waste remnants of both cultures over the past two years. The dung was found in a waste area less than a square mile away from archaeological settlement sites… Cano’s research unveiled what the different groups ate, which helped them to determine they had different origins and separate cultures.”

You can read Cano’s paper, published in PLOS One, here.


Photo credit: Jason Patrick Ross / Shutterstock


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