June, 2019

Analysis of a Coprolite from Conejo Shelter, Texas

Potential Ritualistic Viperous Snake Consumption
  • Crystal Dozier

    Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Wichita State University
  • Elanor Sonderman

  • Morgan Smith

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This paper presents an analysis of the floral and faunal remains of a single human coprolite recovered from Conejo Shelter, Texas (41VV162). The unique contents of this specimen warrant full description. Floral macrobotanical analysis revealed a high density of Agave lechuguilla and Dasylirion spp. fibers. Calcium oxalate crystals confirm the ingestion of Opuntia. Palynological analysis found evidence for a variety of plants with known economic and medicinal uses, with pollen from the Liliaceae (new: Asparagales) family predominating. Zooarchaeological analysis found the remains of a small rodent, evidently eaten whole, with no indication of preparation or cooking. 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. With the exception of the Viperidae remains, the coprolite evidence is consistent with previous research at Conejo Shelter and the Lower Pecos region. Recently assayed radiocarbon samples from this coprolite and a second, unprocessed coprolite from the same archaeological provenience produced a date range of 1460–1528 cal BP. Future analyses of coprolites from this lens and the surrounding contexts will further our current understanding of this unique gastrological event and better situate it in the context of diet patterns and paleoenvironmental adaptions in the Lower Pecos.