Fossil poop reveals hunter-gatherer ate entire viper (fang included)
Yikesss! Archaeologists discover fossil human poop containing the remains of an entire venomous snake eaten during suspected ritual (including a FANG)
- Researchers analyzed samples from more than 1,000 coprolites found in Texas
- In only one, they found the remains of a whole snake from venomous viper family
- In the fossilized human poop, they found bones, scales, and a single intact fang
Archaeologists have discovered what’s thought to be the first example of an ancient human who consumed an entire venomous snake – fangs and all.
In a one-of-a-kind discovery at the Conejo Shelter in Texas, researchers recovered the bones, scales, and a single fang of a viper from fossilized human feces.
The remains of the precarious meal date back to roughly 1,500 years ago, and researchers suspect it was part of a ritual or ceremony.
While that may well have included non-venomous snakes, too, the discovery of the potentially deadly animal consumed in its entirety is likely the first of its kind. Given the presence of the bones and an intact fang, the team says this was likely a matter of ceremony, not nutrition
Researchers from Texas A&M University and Wichita State University detailed the unusual findings in a new paper published to the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.
In the study, the team analyzed samples from more than 1,000 coprolites (fossil poop) found in Texas during the 1960s.
It’s thought that the site may once have served as a latrine.
The samples revealed clues on the diets of hunter-gatherers in the region over 1,500 years ago – in the hot, dry climate, these people survived on small animals and what vegetation they could forage.
While that may well have included non-venomous snakes, too, the discovery of the potentially deadly animal consumed in its entirety is likely the first of its kind.
In the study, the team analyzed samples from more than 1,000 coprolites (fossil poop) found in Texas during the 1960s. It’s thought that the site may once have served as a latrine
‘Zooarchaeological analysis found the remains of a small rodent, evidently eaten whole, with no indication of preparation or cooking,’ the researchers note in the paper.
‘Notably, the bones, scales, and a fang of a snake in the Viperidae family were also recovered from the coprolite, which is the first direct archaeological evidence of venomous snake consumption known to the researchers.’
As the researchers note, other examples of snakes that had been consumed by hunter-gatherers had their heads cut off, along with other hard or sharp parts, such as bones or rattles.
Given the presence of the bones and an intact fang, the team says this was likely a matter of ceremony, not nutrition.
But, strangely, it is the only such sample from the entire bunch.
‘With the exception of the Viperidae remains, the coprolite evidence is consistent with previous research at Conejo Shelter and the Lower Pecos region,’ the researchers say.
WHAT ARE COPROLITES?
It’s not just bones that can provide a rich history of an ancient creature’s past.
Scientists also use something known as ‘coprolites’ to piece together clues about ancient history.
A coprolite is a fossilised faeces that can provide insight into the diet and environment of animals millions of years ago.
Copro means ‘dung,’ from the Greek word kopros.
The ending ‘-lite’ is a common ending for fossil or mineral terms, coming from the Greek word lithos, which means stone
The prehistoric faeces becomes hardened over time and can sometime resemble the those of species alive today.
Coprolites do not smell and are filled with mineral deposits like calcium carbonates.
Faeces typically decays quickly and so coprolites are rare to find.
The largest known ancient coprolite came from a T. rex and is known as the ‘Saskatchewan coprolite’ after the location in Canada where it was found. The
At over 30cm long, scientists believe the T.rex would have been the only carnivorous beast big enough to produce such a specimen.
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