Sometime around 450 CE in the Chihuahuan Desert, one brave soul ate a whole rattlesnake raw. If you think that takes guts, imagine passing an 11mm (0.43 inch) fang afterward. The desiccated coprolite—archaeologists’ term for ancient poop—contained the scales and bones of the snake along with remnants of a small rodent and an assortment of edible desert plants. It’s a great example of how coprolites can give archaeologist a direct (sometimes unnervingly direct) look at what ancient people ate.
The dry desert climate preserves things we don’t always think about. When archaeologists first excavated the layers of sediment in Conejo Shelter, a rock shelter high on the wall of a canyon in Texas’ Lower Pecos Valley, they found nearly 1,000 coprolites buried in a corner near the entrance, which looks like it served as an ancient latrine.