Sunday, November 04, 2007

Who knew astronaut poop could cause such controversy?

It's funny how people react to the idea that human waste may have archaeological value. Of course, in space, the main problem would be exposure to high-energy particles and the various other elements of the orbital environment, which would denature complex biomolecules rather more quickly than on Earth. In the future, this material may have value in terms of identifying the genetic characteristics of an elite group of people in the 20th/21st centuries, in the absence of any actual bodies (this might of course change as the next "Space Race" hots up). There is a piece of Mir still in orbit, and it's likely that a portion of the cloud of frozen urine that once surrounded Mir is still there too ....

On Earth, we study preserved poo (the technical term is coprolite) from both humans and animals for what it can tell us about past diet in particular. I don't have any personal experience in this type of analysis, and frankly don't plan on acquiring it any time soon.

I mention this because it's come to my attention that the Archaeology magazine interview has provoked some debate on a discussion list called, I think, Unidroit. I'm more than happy to clarify my views for any visitors from this list.

1 comment:

  1. There's some very interesting discussion on that link, thanks for pointing it out.