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Danes match 300-year-old poop with bishop who made it

You are what you eat. And three centuries ago, rich people ate much differently than the peasants. That fact has now helped a group of researchers in Denmark link a 300-year-old lump of poo with the bishop who likely made it.

Jette Linaa is an archeologist at the Moesgaard Museum. She spoke to As It Happens guest host Helen Man from Aarhus, Denmark. Here is an edited version of their conversation.

Helen Mann: At this point, is there any odour left?

Jette Linaa: No, none at all. During the investigation, you had to dissolve it in water again to get odour out of it because it is so dry. So it’s not gross at all.

Danish researcher

Jette Linaa is an archeologist. (Moesgaard Museum)

HM: Do you have to do that though, the dissolving, to do the sampling?

JL: No, no. Our archeo-botonist, Peter, did that. It was his job. It was him that picked out the specific seeds and put them under the microscope.

“In the sample, we have a variety. We have berries. We have nuts. We have spices.”
– Jette Linna, archeologist

HM: Where did the sample itself come from?

JL: The sample comes from a city called Aalborg . . . It was found there in 1937 during a very early excavation. It was the bishop’s palace that was demolished along with other buildings of the same age and there the latrine box, which was kind of a wooden box, was excavated.

Danish latrine

The wooden latrine unearthed in 1937 no longer exists, but the poo was preserved inside a bottle. (Moesgaard Museum)

HM: So who do you think the feces came from?

JL: I think it came from either the Bishop [of Aalborg Jens Bircherod] himself or his wife. It is definitely someone living at the bishop’s or eating from the bishop’s table, one of those two people. They didn’t have any children and it couldn’t have been his servants because they wouldn’t have used the private latrine that we found.

“We get this very little glimpse into one man and one diet. We get as close to the man himself — or the people themselves — that we ever can.”
– Jette Linaa

HM: Was there anything different in what he would have eaten — or what he and his wife would have eaten — as well, compared to what their servants would have eaten?

JL: Absolutely. The servants would have had a very basic diet with meat, like pigs, beef or sheep, and mostly rye bread and gruel.

HM: And what was in sample then?

 “I really, really hope that it goes on display. It deserves it.”
– Jette Linaa

JL: In the sample, we have a variety. We have berries. We have nuts. We have spices and we have fruits, black currant. We have buckwheat, which is rather special. We have figs and we have grapes. And then we have peppercorns.

HM: What does it mean to you to be able to put the pieces together and figure this out?

JL: It is so much fun . . . We get this very little glimpse into one man and one diet. We get as close to the man himself — or the people themselves — that we ever can.

HM: Will you be putting the poo on public display?

JL: I suspect that the museum will, absolutely …. So far still, it is still under investigation. But, when we are finished, I really, really hope that it goes on display. It deserves it.

For more on this poop, listen to our full interview with Jette Linaa.