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November 27 2012

Historical human presence tracked with poo marker

Biomarkers found in human poo are being used to track historical human presence in areas of Norway.

By observing changes in the levels of a compound called coprostanol in sediment cores taken from Lake Liland in the Lofoten Islands just north of the Arctic Circle Robert D'Anjou, a doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts was able to measure human presence in the vicinity.

Coprostanol is a biomarker formed when cholesterol is broken down during digestion. Faecal matter containing the marker washes into the lake and ends up as part of the sediment. Coprostanol can be found in a number of higher mammals but, as D'Anjou explains, "When you find these molecules at certain concentrations and in specific ratios, it provides an unmistakable indicator that people were living in the area.".

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