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Late Pleistocene coprolites from Qurta (Egypt) and the potential of interdisciplinary research involving micromorphology, plant macrofossil and biomarker analyses

Baeten, Jan, Mees, Florias, Marinova, Elena, De Dapper, Morgan, De Vos, Dirk, Huyge, Dirk, Van Strydonck, Mark, Vandenberghe, Dimitri, Linseele, Veerle
Review of palaeobotany and palynology 2018 v.259 pp. 93-111
Bovidae, Procavia capensis, animals, biomarkers, feces, hippuric acid, interdisciplinary research, microstructure, paleoecology, pellets, radiocarbon dating, urine, Egypt
As part of a rock art dating project at Qurta (Upper Egypt), samples were collected from an organic deposit and from an accumulation of individual faecal pellets. Radiocarbon dating of these relatively well-preserved materials indicates an unexpectedly old age of ca. 45,000 BP or older. In order to identify the biogenic nature of these deposits and to reconstruct the palaeo-environment at the time of their formation, micromorphological, palaeobotanical, and biomarker analyses were carried out. All data indicate that the organic deposit and the pellets were produced by different species. The presence of a novel biomarker, which only occurs in animal urine (hippuric acid), contributed to the conclusion that the organic deposit most likely represents the remains of a rock hyrax (Procavia capensis) latrine, whereas the pellets stem from small bovids. Plant macroremains from the pellets indicate that the animals browsed in the more vegetated areas, presumably near the Nile, although the general environment was probably mainly arid and open. Combined with the dates, this suggests that the pellets date to MIS 3 or 4. Our results demonstrate the great potential of an interdisciplinary approach to the study of Quaternary coprolite deposits, allowing for more adequate and more complete interpretation.