The scenic city of York in England has a lot to be proud of. The city, in one form or another has been nestled between the Ouse and Foss rivers for over 2,000 years. It has a rich history dating back to Roman times and has been home to many impressive archaeological digs over the years, with artifacts a plenty being found. Perhaps one of the most bizarre, but also actually the most revealing, is York’s famous Viking poop fossil, which is also known as the Lloyds Bank coprolite. It’s the largest piece of fossilized human poop known to man. Believe it or not, the York Viking poop fossil has told us more about York than almost any other artifact found there!
York’s Viking Poop Fossil: Discovery and Size
York’s Viking poop fossil or coprolite is literally that, nothing more than a huge chunk of fossilized poop. The so-called Lloyds Bank coprolite was discovered back in 1972, with the planned opening of a new branch on Pavement Street, York, England .
As work begun on the new bank branch’s foundations, the workmen began to find all kinds of Viking artifacts. Work had to grind to a halt as a team of archaeologists was brought into sift through the muck.
Measuring 20 centimeters (8 inches) long and 5 centimeters (2 inches) wide, the massive coprolite is believed to be the largest example of fossilized human poop (paleofeces) ever found. It’s also thought to date to the 9th Century AD, making it a remarkably long-lived piece of Viking poop.
It was during the 1970s Coppergate dig at York, England when the famous and super important Viking poop fossil was found. ( Jorvik Viking Centre )
The Big Deal About a Big Chunk Of Old Viking Poop
Besides the fact that scatological humor is always funny, the Lloyds Bank Coprolite is genuinely fascinating.
York sits on a layer of ancient trash that is roughly 10 feet (3 meters) deep. This layer of trash is predominantly made up of biological matter like leather, wood, bone, various types of cloth, and tons of, ahem, human waste .
Normally this matter breaks down and rots away fairly quickly, leaving a mulch that is largely useless to archaeologists. However, much of York’s soil is waterlogged and oxygen-free . This has left some of this centuries-old waste remarkably intact.
Almost a third of this 10-foot layer of preserved bio-matter is thought to be made up of human and animal waste.
So, What Makes the Lloyds Bank Coprolite So Special?
The York Viking poop fossil is a solid individual piece. Poop is normally found as one large mass, for example at the bottom of communal latrines. Poop piles are not so useful to paleoscatologists (poop historians) because they can make only generalized assumptions about the group of poopers as a whole.
With the Lloyds Bank poop, however, paleoscatoloigists can get way down into the specifics of who pooped it, what they were eating, and more.
For a start we know it’s Viking poop dating back to around the 9th Century AD. From here we can glean a significant amount of information about the day-to-day life of your average Viking living in York at that time, as well as the specific Viking who made the poop fossil.
We know their diet wasn’t the most nutritious. From an analysis of the Lloyds Bank coprolite, we know our Viking lived mainly on meat and grains with very little in the way of fruits and vegetables . This isn’t necessarily true of everyone living there at the time, as large numbers of fruit pits and vegetable seeds were found at the site.
Furthermore, going by the length, and weight (half a pound or 227 grams) we can deduct that our Viking pooper was probably pretty severely constipated . Combine this with the poop’s lack of pits and seeds and it becomes clear that our Viking probably wasn’t the healthiest person in the village.
A large number of maw-worm and whipworm eggs were also found in the poop. This is pretty standard for Viking poop, but it confirms what we think we know about Viking living standards. They were filthy and it’s no surprise that gut parasites were a serious issue.
It was already widely known that hygiene wasn’t exactly a priority for Vikings and the presence of these eggs helps confirm this.
A diorama of daily Viking life at the Jorvik Viking Center in York. (Tracey Hind / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
Where is the Lloyds Bank Poop Now?
If you’re interested in getting up close and personal with some Viking poop, you need to check out the Jorvik Viking Centre in York.
They have a replica of a whole Viking village you can take a tour of. You can even give your nose a treat and find out what Viking poop smelt like.
In 2001, the poop was chemically broken down and a fecal odorgram was created. The Center worked out what the Lloyds Bank Coprolite smelled like when it was fresh out of the oven, so to speak. If you visit the recreated Viking latrine at the museum, you can smell it for yourself.
Brown Gold: The Value of Good Coprolite
Of course, the Lloyds Bank Coprolite is priceless. As we’ve already talked about, it has given historians invaluable information on day-to-day Viking life.
It is also vanishingly rare, and it is unlikely that we’ll ever find a better specimen of fossilized human poop.
On the other hand, this is the real world, so of course, it has been given a nickel and dime valuation.
Over 30 years ago Dr. Andrew Jones had the coprolite appraised for insurance purposes. It was valued at just 39,000 dollars (36,380 euros).
This seems a little low for such a rare artifact and Jones agreed. At the time he told the Wall Street Journal, “It’s insulting, really. This is the most exciting piece of excrement I’ve ever seen. In its own way it’s as irreplaceable as the Crown jewels.”
At the end of the day, the York Viking poop fossil’s material worth isn’t really important. The Jorvik Viking Centre is never going to sell it. And if it is ever lost, no amount of money could replace a thousand-year-old poop.
Instead, its real worth is in the fascinating insights it has given us into Viking life in York, England 900 years ago.
I like to think somewhere up in Valhalla a Viking is feeling immensely proud of his (or her) gigantic poop and the fact that 900 years later people are still checking it out.
Top image: The world famous York Viking poop fossil or Lloyds Bank coprolite that is about 900 years old. Source: Linda Spashett/ Wikimedia
By Robbie Mitchell