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Static Data Storage

by Heather Ryan on January 15th, 02009

Giant Moa of New ZealandBirds, long-term information storage, and poop. Two of my favorite things, and one of my not-so-favorite things are all brought together in this Genetic Archaeology piece about the valuable information retrieved from the feces of giant, extinct birds. According to the article, palaeontology researchers have been able to analyze “plant seeds, leaf fragments and DNA from the dried faeces,”  and from this, they have been able to start building a model of the ecosystem during the time which these birds were living.

Alexander Rose has pointed out that “this is also the case with Pack Rat middens,” which are towers of amberized feces and urine.  Interestingly, dendroclimatologists use the same type of ‘data forensics’ on the  bristlecone pines on the Long Now property which was purchased for the Clock project.

Valuable information which informs our understanding of the world can come in surprising packages. Where this example may not provide obvious answers in preserving our own (digital) cultural record,  it is an interesting take on how information has been preserved in a static state beyond 10,000 years. This isn’t exactly a new idea; we’ve been studying rocks and fossils, which provide data from millions and billions of years ago, for centuries.

What is interesting to think about here, is what would post-human ‘scientists’ discover about us if we were to become extinct? If all of our information suddenly had no one to care for it and to keep it moving and living through time, what would they be able to discover about us? What would they find in OUR poop?

For more information on the bird feces research, see the original article from The University of Adelaide, or download a pdf of the researchers findings as published in Quaternary Science Reviews. See this article for more on pack rat middens.

Photo Copyright: PLoS Biology (an open-access journal published by the nonprofit organization Public Library of Science)

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Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander