Integrative analysis of DNA, macroscopic remains and stable isotopes of dog coprolites to reconstruct community diet

Kelsey E. Witt, Karthik Yarlagadda, Julie M. Allen, Alyssa C. Bader, Mary L Simon, Steven R. Kuehn, Kelly S. Swanson, Tzu Wen L. Cross, Kristin M. Hedman, Stanley H. Ambrose, Ripan S. Malhi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Paleofeces or coprolites are often used to reconstruct diet at archaeological sites, usually using macroscopic analyses or targeted DNA amplification and sequencing. Here we present an integrative analysis of dog coprolites, combining macroscopic analyses, stable isotope measurements, and DNA shotgun sequencing to examine diet and health status. Dog coprolites used in this study were recovered from the Janey B. Goode and East Saint Louis archaeological sites, both of which are located in the American Bottom, an extensive Mississippi River floodplain in Southwestern Illinois. Based on the context of recovery, coprolites are assigned to the Late Woodland and Terminal Late Woodland periods (ca. 600–1050 AD). Given the scarcity of human remains from this time period, these dog coprolites can be useful as a proxy for understanding human diet during the Late Woodland period. We find that the Late Woodland dogs consumed a variety of fish as well as bird and plant taxa, possibly including maize, and also harbored intestinal parasites and pathogenic bacteria. By sequencing the fecal microbiome of the coprolites, we find some similarities to modern dog microbiomes, as well as specific taxa that can be used to discriminate between modern and ancient microbiomes, excluding soil contaminants. As dogs are often used as a surrogate to assess human diet, humans living with these dogs likely had a similar diet and were affected by similar parasites. These analyses, when integrated, show a more comprehensive view of ancient dog and human diet and health in the region during the initial expansion of maize agriculture than any individual method could alone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3113
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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