ARIZONA NEWS

Museum in northern Arizona tells stories of ancient animals through their fossilized poop

Jul 1, 2024, 5:00 PM

Fossilized crocodilian excrement is displayed at the "Poozeum", Friday, June 7, 2024, in Williams, ...

Fossilized crocodilian excrement is displayed at the "Poozeum", Friday, June 7, 2024, in Williams, Ariz. The museum in northern Arizona along Route 66 features the fossilized feces of prehistoric animals. Frandsen has been collecting the fossils known as coprolites for nearly three decades. His museum features roughly 7,000 fossils, including one suspected to be from a Tyrannosaurus rex. (AP Photo/Ty ONeil)

(AP Photo/Ty ONeil)

WILLIAMS, Ariz. (AP) — One way to help tell how a Tyrannosaurus rex digested food is to look at its poop.

Bone fragments in a piece of fossilized excrement at a new museum in northern Arizona — aptly called the Poozeum — are among the tinier bits of evidence that indicate T. rex wasn’t much of a chewer, but rather swallowed whole chunks of prey.

The sample is one of more than 7,000 on display at the museum that opened in May in Williams, a town known for its Wild West shows along Route 66, wildlife attractions and a railway to Grand Canyon National Park.

The Poozeum sign features a bright green T. rex cartoon character sitting on a toilet to grab attention from the buzzing neon lights and muffled 1950s music emanating from other businesses.

Inside, display cases filled with coprolites — fossilized feces from animals that lived millions of years ago — line the walls. They range from minuscule termite droppings to a massive specimen that weighs 20 pounds (9 kilograms).

Poozeum’s president and curator, George Frandsen, bought his first chunk of fossilized feces from a shop in Moab, Utah, when he was 18, he said. He already loved dinosaurs and fossils but had never heard of fossilized poop. From there, his fascination grew.

“It was funny. It was gross,” he said. “But I learned very quickly it could tell us so much about our prehistoric past and how important they are to the fossil record.”

Coprolites aren’t tremendously common but they can make up the majority of fossils found at some sites, and people have learned more and more about them over the past few decades, said Anthony Fiorillo, executive director of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

It can be hard to identify them and in some cases, specimens that appeared to be coprolites — with their pinched ends and striations — were examined further and ultimately reclassified as something else.

“There’s a number of sedimentary processes that can produce an extrusion of soft mud to a different layer,” he said. “So think about your toothpaste, for example. When you squeeze it, there can be some striations on that toothpaste.”

Fossil enthusiast Brandee Reynolds recently visited the museum with her husband after finding it was a short detour from a road trip they had planned.

“I mostly find sharp teeth and things like that,” she said. “I haven’t really found a whole lot of coprolite, but who doesn’t love coprolite?”

A highlight of Frandsen’s collection is a specimen that holds a Guinness World Record for being the largest coprolite left by a carnivorous animal. Measuring more than 2 feet (61 centimeters) long and over 6 inches (15 centimeters) wide, Frandsen said it’s believed to be from a T. rex, given where it was found on a private ranch in South Dakota in 2019.

Frandsen also holds the record for the largest certified coprolite collection of 1,277 pieces, earned in 2015 when it was verified at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, Florida.

His collection now stands at about 8,000 specimens. He doesn’t have the room to display it all in the museum in Williams and features some online.

No need to worry about any smell or germs, Frandsen said. Those evaporated millions of years ago, when the feces were covered with sediment and replaced by minerals, making them rock-hard.

Location, shape, size and other materials like bones or plants can determine if something is a coprolite, but not necessarily which creature deposited it, Fiorillo said.

“I think the majority of us would say, let’s pump the brakes on that and just be happy if we could determine carnivore, herbivore and then look at possibly those food cycles within each of those broad groups,” said Fiorillo, a trained paleontologist and author of books on dinosaurs.

Ideally, Fiorillo said he hopes fossils that are rare and can add to the understanding of the prehistoric world find their way into the public sphere so researchers can use them as they form hypotheses about life long ago.

Like Frandsen, Fiorillo said he was captivated by fossils when he was young. He pointed to private quarries in Wyoming’s Fossil Basin where the public can hunt for fossilized fish, plants and even coprolites. People also can visit a research quarry to learn about paleontology at the nearby Fossil Butte National Monument.

If a child goes home inspired after finding a fossil or seeing one on display at a museum, then that’s awesome, Fiorillo said.

“Maybe they’ll be the next generation,” he said.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

A home on fire in Tempe, Arizona....

KTAR.com

Body of woman found in home burned during standoff with US Marshals in Tempe

The body of a woman was found in a home that was burned after a suspect had a standoff with the U.S. Marshals last week in Tempe, authorities announced Tuesday.

2 hours ago

Vice President Kamala Harris, shown in front of an Arizona flag during a Phoenix campaign stop in 2...

Kevin Stone

Arizona’s full slate of Democratic delegates pledges to support Kamala Harris

The Arizona Democratic Party's full slate of delegates formally pledged to support Kamala Harris’ presidential bid on Tuesday.

4 hours ago

The scene from the Romero Fire, one of two current wildfires near Kearny in rural Arizona, along wi...

KTAR.com

Crews making good progress against Romero and Circle fires in rural Arizona

Crews continue working to contain two large wildfires threatening land in rural Arizona near Kearny, officials said Monday.

4 hours ago

A graphic shows a winning entry from the 2023 ADOT Safety Message Contest: "Seatbelts always pass t...

Kevin Stone

ADOT’s popular Safety Message Contest is underway for 2024

ADOT is once again asking citizens to put their word skills on display as part of the agency’s annual Safety Message Contest.

6 hours ago

Mugshot of Martin Alberto Perez Gonzalez, who was arrested in connection with a fatal Phoenix hotel...

KTAR.com

Suspect in deadly Phoenix hotel shooting claims self defense after getting arrested

The suspect in a fatal Phoenix hotel shooting earlier this month claimed self defense after his arrest Monday, authorities said.

7 hours ago

police arrest homicide suspect on Monday...

KTAR.com

Man suspected of killing woman in downtown Phoenix hotel room in early July arrested

Police arrested a homicide suspect on Monday after a two-week-long manhunt, the Phoenix Police Department said.

8 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinic visits boost student training & community health

Going to a Midwestern University Clinic can help make you feel good in more ways than one.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s how to be worry-free when your A/C goes out in the middle of summer

PHOENIX -- As Arizona approaches another hot summer, Phoenix residents are likely to spend more time indoors.

...

Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

Museum in northern Arizona tells stories of ancient animals through their fossilized poop