Scientists digging around an ancient Neanderthal campfire site in Spain called El Salt stumbled upon what they believe to be the oldest human poop. Other than the poop being 50,000-years-old, analysis of the feces, as published this week in the scientific journal PLOS One, indicates that Neanderthals may have enjoyed an omnivorous diet, contrary to previous thought that they exclusively dined on meat.
This poop, as USA Today reports, is very, very, very old. Definitely the oldest poop to be discovered yet:
The poop samples come from rock layers dated to roughly 50,000 years ago. That's far older than other ancient wastes, such as those found at Turkey's Catalhöyük, one of the world's earliest large villages, dating back 6,000 to 7,000 years, and what might be 14,000-year-old human coprolites at a cave in Oregon.
Though its age is not so much contested as is the finding that Neanderthals ate plants in addition to meat. The gastronomic behavior of Neanderthals is controversial! Further from USA Today:
If the discovery is truly a prehistoric latrine – a claim that has provoked skepticism among other researchers – it contradicts the pop-culture image of Neanderthals as hunters who subsisted on hunks of flesh. Two of the new poop samples contain the chemical footprints of both meat and plant consumption, providing the earliest known evidence that humans were omnivores who ate significant quantities of plant-based food.
But they might not even be plants. Maybe. Ainara Sistiaga, an organic chemistry and Paleolithic archaeology researcher at MIT and the lead author of the study, told the Los Angeles Times that what they identified as plants in the feces may have come from Neanderthals eating the stomachs of other animals that do eat plants. Though she remains optimistic.
"In any case, this would represent another way to eat plants," she told the Los Angeles Times.
Or...it could just be bear shit. One more time from USA Today:
Other researchers call the new study intriguing but far from airtight. The compounds measured by Sistiaga and her colleagues have probably degraded over time, making them unreliable as indicators of human feces, says Michael Richards of the University of British Columbia. The study does not rule out bears, which are also omnivorous, as the source of the coprolites, says Hervé Bocherens of the University of Tübingen in Germany.
[Image via Ainara Sistiaga/Los Angeles Times]