Minimally destructive radiocarbon dating of caprine dung

Daniel Fuks, Niamh O'Neill-Munro, Paula J. Reimer, Tali Erickson-Gini, Guy Bar-Oz, Roy Galili, Scott Bucking

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Archaeological dung pellets are time capsules of ancient herbivore diets and gut flora, informing on past agropastoral activity, ecology, and animal health. Improving multi-proxy approaches is key to maximizing this finite archaeological resource. Through experiments with standard pretreatments used in radiocarbon (14C) dating, we address a fundamental problem in maximal multi-proxy analysis: How to chronometrically date individual caprine pellets while conserving as much as possible for additional analyses? We applied acid-alkali-acid (AAA) or acid-only pretreatments to 37 samples of ancient and recent sheep/goat dung pellets from sites in the Negev desert, Israel, measuring weight-loss due to pretreatment. Shavings of outer surfaces and remaining inner pellets of four pairs were dated and compared. We found that (i) sample-specific factors affect pretreatment survivability, including preservation quality and initial sample size; (ii) given sufficient start weight, AAA can be used to pretreat sheep/goat coprolites; (iii) 100 mg appeared a desirable minimum sample weight before pretreatment; and (iv) shavings of coprolites' outer surface produced 14C dates equivalent to dates obtained from inner coprolites. Whereas standard coprolite analysis protocols discard shavings removed from outer surfaces to avoid contamination, our findings indicate their efficacy for 14C dating. This offers an important addition to workflows for multi-proxy coprolite analysis.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)832-847
Number of pages16
Issue number4
StatePublished - 5 Aug 2023


  • archaeology
  • coprolite
  • herbivore dung
  • multi-proxy method
  • pretreatment
  • radiocarbon

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Archaeology
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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