Paleoscatology, a branch of research that involves precisely what you think it does — ancient excrement — would rank high among areas one would least hope to find revelations about humanity and its prehistoric activities.
However, before you accuse us of being “full of crap” (placing all puns aside), among the most treasured, and perhaps stomach-turning items ever recovered from the ancient living spaces of Viking settlements involves this odd area of interest.
Known as the “Lloyds Bank coprolite”, the discovery in question is believed to be one of the most unique specimens of fossilized human feces ever found. It was discovered in 1972 at a dig site in England, upon which later the York area branch of Lloyds Bank was constructed, which lent its name to the odd discovery.
The fossil is notable for its size, logging in (quit snickering) at 19.5 centimeters, and dating back to the 9th century AD. While not the oldest, it is certainly the largest specimen of its kind.
One shouldn’t underestimate the importance of such a discovery, though. Strange though it may sound (especially since it’s understandable that you, like many of us, may still be reeling at the fact that there are archaeologists who actually look for feces at archaeological sites), fossilized dung is actually very useful, as it allows scientists to learn about the eating habits, as well as the general health of the inhabitants of locations where it is found.
“Whoever passed it probably hadn’t performed for a few days,” according to Gill Snape, a student conservator with the York Archaeological Trust, who spoke to The Guardian about the item in 2003.
In the case of the Lloyds Bank specimen, it also appears that this Viking guy-or-gal had subsisted mostly on meat and bread, though careful examination revealed that this individual had also suffered from parasites, as suggested by the hundreds of eggs it contained.
Andrew Jones, a noted paleoscatologist, was tasked with appraising the item in the early 1990s, for insurance liabilities. He noted at the time that it was the most “exciting piece of excrement” he had ever seen. “In its own way, it’s as valuable as the Crown Jewels.”
Who knew… one man’s trash really is another man’s treasure; or in this instance, one man’s crap is another’s Crown Jewels.
The real Crown Jewels, like the Hope Diamond and so many other famous and irreplaceable treasures, have long been purported to have a curse associated with them. Specifically, the famous 186-carat gem that befits the crown of the late Queen Elizabeth, known as the Koh-i-Noor, is said to boast a curse that makes it lethal to any would-be male owner. According to tradition, “only God or a woman can wear it with impunity,” as the Daily Mail reported in 2010.
The question might be raised then, in light of Mr. Jones’ statement in 1991, “does the Lloyds Bank coprolite” possess a similar legend of bad luck or curses?” While there is no known history of those associated with fossil being afflicted with misfortune, things did take a turn for the worse in 2003 when the item fell off a display fixture during an exhibition, breaking it into three pieces. However, the ancient feces find was reassembled, and continues to be displayed for the public periodically.
So while it remains a treasure, no, this isn’t cursed-crap, apparently; but it really is one of a kind, and that alone makes it priceless, one thing it will always have in common with England’s Crown Jewels.