An evaluation of fecal stanols as indicators of population change at Cahokia, Illinois

Publication date: May 2018Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 93
Author(s): A.J. White, Lora R. Stevens, Varenka Lorenzi, Samuel E. Munoz, Carl P. Lipo, Sissel Schroeder
Fecal stanols deposited in sediment provide evidence of trace human waste products and have been proposed as a proxy for measuring population change. Despite its potential to contribute to paleodemographic studies, the method has not been evaluated against conventional archaeological population reconstructions to determine its fidelity in identifying changes in ancient populations nor has it been applied in an environmental setting outside of the Arctic, where low temperatures enhance stanol preservation. We studied sediment cores recovered from a lake adjacent to Cahokia, the largest and most well-studied prehistoric mound center in North America. We found fecal stanol data closely track independently established population reconstructions from multiple sources, confirming the utility of the method and demonstrating its viability in temperate climates.