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Door seven: 4 Fossil Turds

SevenNext in our attempt to geologise the twelve days of christmas is 4 fossil turds!

This post is inspired by the recent discovery of the world’s oldest public toilet in northwestern Argentina. Last week the team published their work in  Nature Scientific Reports. They unearthed ~30,000 faeces ranging from 0.5-35cm in length at a density of around 94 per square metre!!


Fossilised dung found in northwestern Argentina. © Dr L Fiorelli

Fossilised faeces, more formally known as ‘Coprolite’ are trace fossils which contain evidence about an animal’s behaviour. First described by William Buckland in 1829 they are extremely valuable for the information they give palaeontologists about behaviour and diet of extinct organisms.

The fossils are from the Triassic, 240 million years ago and are thought to belong to the dicynodonts; mammal-like reptiles that lived from the mid-Permian to the early Cretaceous. Each coprolite is a snapshot in time and can contain extinct plants and fungi that tell us about the environment and other species around at the time.


Drawing of a dicynodont, an ancient megaherbivore. Source – BBC News Website.

This is the oldest non-mammal megaherbivore communal defecation site ever found. It’s known that many mammals such as elephants and horses defecate in locations that are socially agreed in order to mark territory amongst other reasons, but I think it’s fair to say their efforts are frankly poor when compared to enormous mass of dung amassed in this latest discovery!

Shame they’re not around to clean up after themselves…

3 thoughts on “Door seven: 4 Fossil Turds

  1. Pingback: Door 22: Alan Partridge in a Pear Tree | Geological Society of London blog

  2. Pingback: Door 24: A christmas letter from the geoadvent blog team | Geological Society of London blog

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