Archeology has done wonders to expound many of the mysteries surrounding Scandinavian culture of the Viking Age. Scientists have found pieces of armor, leather, ingots, a helmet, swords, axes, whole ships and…poop. Contrary to what you may think, feces is an incredibly important and informative find. In fact, any archeologist worth their salt will tell you that the most exciting finds for them are cesspits, because societies leave massive amounts of information about themselves behind in their trash.
Luckily for archeologists who study the Vikings, they found one such specimen buried beneath the city of York, England in 1972. While digging during the construction of what was to become a branch of Lloyds Bank, workers found a variety of fossilized artifacts. Among them was a seven inch long coprolite (the scientific word for fossilized poop) deposited there during the 9th century. Scientists aptly named the artifact the Lloyds Bank Coprolite, and its finding has helped to shape our understanding of the Norse invaders of England from 1000 years ago.
Paleoscatologists—those who study fossilized poop (yes, you can do this for a living if you want to)—scoured over the coprolite and found that the man who had left behind this magnificent piece of history had a diet consisting mostly of meats and breads. They also found parasitic eggs, indicating that this poor warrior from Scandinavia had to put up with worms as well as the rain.
Paleoscatologist Andrew Jones, who appraised the coprolite for insurance purposes, made headlines in the Wall Street Journal when he said, “This is the most exciting piece of excrement I’ve ever seen…it’s as valuable as the Crown Jewels.” His assessment of the value of the Lloyds Band coprolite was certainly blown out of proportion, but then again we can clearly see from his choice of profession that he was unashamedly biased.
On a more serious note, such finds are often not widely covered due to the vulgar nature we associate with such things in our society. Yet, there is much to learn from our ancestors’ waste, and in fact it may be the key to solving many more mysteries in years to come.