6 Mind-Blowing Ways Poop Created the Modern World
We here at Cracked take pride in our research department's ability to find the most mundane things and figure out how they changed the world, and also to make as many poop jokes in a 2,000-word article as is humanly possible. Delight in the head-on collision between the two as we discuss how poop has managed to change the world in utterly profound ways.
Poop Is the Reason Complex Life Evolved
Millions and millions of years ago, evolution was in a bit of a slump. The Earth, instead of the blue planet bustling with life that it is today, was just some overheated rock with a lot of single-celled bacteria floating around. Evolution remained at a standstill for some three billion years, until getting suddenly jump-started by a process that has always mystified scientists.
Well, according to Australian geoscientist Graham Logan, the miracle that came along to cause the planet to explode with life was shit.
"We've been telling you this for years, sheeple."
Or specifically, the first creatures capable of shitting.
The problem, Logan says, was that at the time the oceans were very low on oxygen (i.e., the stuff pretty much every non-plant on Earth breathes) and very high in carbon. It just wasn't a mix that was conducive to a thriving ecosystem.
"Fuck you, ocean! I'm sick of your shit!"
But then came the shitters. These multicellular creatures could eat plankton and, more importantly, poop out dense turds of carbon that promptly sank to the ocean floor. Over millions of years, they turned the upper sunlit levels of the oceans from a carbon-rich dead zone into an oxygen-rich life factory that gave birth to the entire ecosystem we now know and love.
All thanks to this army of tiny, heroic shit machines.
"And that's why what I'm doing in the swimming pool is perfectly normal, Cheryl."
But poop's work in the ocean would hardly be finished ...
Poop Saves the Ocean's Ecosystem
Here's a difficult question: What makes the ocean work? If you said "poop," then that's great, you're already familiar with the premise of this article. If you said specifically "whale poop," then ... um ... spoiler alert in the header image!
But that is what whale biologist Joe Roman believes. According to his recent study, the very basis of the ocean's ecosystem relies directly on whale shit to function. As it turns out, the anal-bullets of whales have all the necessary nutrients (such as nitrogen and iron) needed to support marine life.
Everything on this diagram would make an awesome name for your prog rock band.
Previously, it was assumed that all the microorganisms took care of that, but Roman's study found that those microorganisms couldn't exist without the titanic dump flotillas whales produce. There simply isn't any other source in the ocean that provides the necessary nutrients in abundance. No other creature takes shits that size.
OK, but how often does he go swimming in the deep ocean?
But that's not all. Another study into whale poop (yes, as it happens there are several) found that it was also crucial to controlling global warming. Scientists discovered that sperm whale shit alone had the ability to draw down 440,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into the ocean, sort of like air scrubbers made of pure excrement. Then that carbon gets feasted on by millions of plankton, and the plankton get eaten by the whales, and the whole process starts all over. Boom, circle of life.
We're pretty sure Elton John wrote a song about it.
In fact, researchers say that if we weren't hunting whales so much (ahem Japan), their shit could remove 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Whale poop is essentially keeping the ocean, and the whole goddamn planet, clean.
Poop Allowed Ancient Humans to Discover the Americas
Contrary to what our calendars seem to tell us, Columbus did not discover America. There's a lot of dispute over who did actually find the continent, with theories ranging from the Vikings to the Chinese, but the most common belief is that tribes migrated into Northern Canada from Russia.
Back then, North America and Asia were connected by a thin strip of land at the Bering Strait in Alaska. The details on the migration have always been slim, since it took place so long ago (waaaay before things like recorded history). For instance, one thing scientists have always debated over is the actual logistics of the migration -- we're talking about a long, frigid trek made entirely on foot. And there's also the question of why.
We can only theorize.
The answer may be, you guessed it, poop.
First, you have to picture what this migration would have looked like. Northern Canada, after all, isn't really known for its lush forests and fertile lands, but rather its magnificent amount of snow and devastating, remorseless cold. Consequently, there really isn't much wood or coal in ready abundance that could have been burned for everyday tasks like cooking food and not freezing to goddamn death. However, something they do have in abundance is yaks, and their accompanying igloo-sized mounds of colonic eruption.
Don't let the colors fool you. He will poop the skin off of your face.
Scientists now believe that the migrating tribes' source of fuel for their fires -- and the very fuel that allowed them to migrate to America -- was yak poop. The idea is that, just as certain tribes of American Indians would follow the buffalo across the country because they depended so heavily on the animals, so would these earlier tribes follow the yak. They'd use the yaks for food and clothing, and burn their shit to prepare their meals and stay warm as they moved across continents.
Which is to say, the humans didn't even want to migrate -- they just went where the poop took them. There were almost no other sources of fuel for the tribes to use, essentially forcing them to survive entirely on flaming yak turds. So, they followed the yak, as it was essentially their one-stop shop for every aspect of daily life. And, as the yak wandered into North America, so did the humans, following a brown trail right into world history.
"Do you mind? I can't go when you're staring at me like that."
Poop Sabotaged the Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls are among the most important archaeological finds of all time. In addition to being incredibly old, they also contain the earliest copies of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, making them a treasure trove for religious scholars. Most archeologists agree that the scrolls were written by a group of monks living in a place called Qumran who went by the awesome name the Essenes, presumably because it looked super badass embossed on the back of a leather jacket.
"Man, that monk sho' is one mad mutha'-"
And most theories agree that the Essenes had isolated themselves for one purpose: to copy the Bible into as many languages as possible, thus preserving it for a time centuries later when it could be recorded as a book-on-tape by Denzel Washington. Unfortunately, before they could accomplish the task, they were all wiped out, and no one was sure why.
Spoiler alert: They were killed by poop. This historic attempt to translate the Bible for the world was thwarted by the monks' own shit.
To give you some perspective, those aren't walls.
Archeologists with the University of North Carolina followed directions in the Dead Sea Scrolls in order to locate the monks' latrines, because for some reason they wanted to do this. Over there, they found traces of ancient roundworms, tapeworms and pinworms -- all of which are human parasites.
To make matters worse, the waste sites were located near a canal, making the surrounding area where they lived the perfect moist breeding ground for the killer worms. You see, the monks would bury their poop, and this allowed the worms to fester and grow, as opposed to just dying in the sun. In fact, there were so many parasites where the Essenes lived, it was likely that fewer than 6 percent of the group survived to see 40.
They forgot the 11th Commandment, "Thou shalt not hide thy poop from the eyes of the Lord."
If the monks had left their poop out to dry in the sun like spring laundry, they might have survived to complete their task, or at least lived long enough to get stomped into oblivion by the Romans, which is what happened to everybody else at around that time.
Poop Wins Wars and Turns the Tides of History
Back in the 11th century when the Mongols were invading China, Kublai Khan (sort of like the Maggie Gyllenhaal to Katie Holmes' Genghis Kahn) was besieging various cities with a literal shit bomb -- an old Chinese recipe that called for powdered human or wolf feces with effects similar to mustard gas, causing terrible blisters and infection. The use of this crap-mentation grenade helped Kublai overrun China and solidify his reputation as one of the most powerful men in history.
Later, during the first World War, the usage of poop as an explosive really took off. Back then, the British government was really desperate for cheaper alternatives to traditional gunpowder.
"Eh, let's just start stuffing it with poor people."
That's when they discovered the power of coprolites, known by the archeology community as fossilized dinosaur poop, which contains phosphate that can be used in munitions. That's right: Even dinosaur poop is badass.
For a bit, England went berserk trying to mine for coprolites, to the point of hiring thousands of men to scavenge for it. There are streets named after the stuff to this day.
There's no reason to not have a bar on that street named Dinosaur Buttholes.
But even that pales in comparison to what the United States did for guano. It turns out that guano, or bat poop, makes a great fertilizer. It was for that reason that the people of Peru began mining for it. But guano turned into something much more. Just like coprolites, guano has a large amount of phosphorus -- the key element used in explosives. When word leaked out, the surrounding superpowers went into dick-swinging war mode, trying everything they could to bully Peru into giving them access.
In fact, in America laws were even passed saying that if any citizen so much as stumbled across some guano, the military could confiscate it. Shortly afterward, America had a light bulb moment and realized that bullying countries both a) came naturally and b) was excruciatingly easy. Thus, U.S. imperialism was born. All thanks to bat shit.
This is an actual shit mine. We're assuming none of its workers ever saw a second date in their lives.
Poop Cures Modern Diseases
Look, medical science isn't always a pretty thing. Cures aren't always born from the epiphany of some genius scientist in a laboratory. Sometimes they come from Nazis and shit.
For instance, we have the story of dysentery. During World War II, Nazi high command became aware of a very serious problem with their officers stationed in North Africa. They were all dying.
"Hans, why aren't you -- no! Hans, NOOO! This would be so much more emotionally engaging if we weren't both Nazis!"
The culprit was acute dysentery, which apparently was so bad that the German medical corps concluded it was killing more soldiers than Allied attacks. In a state of emergency, Germany sent over their best chemists and doctors to find a cure (history does not indicate whether they were aware of the pun-rife irony of a bunch of assholes shitting themselves to death). Despite the Third Reich's greatest minds all working in unison, they were initially unable to make any progress.
In desperation, they looked to the Bedouins, who seemed immune to the disease. What they discovered was that whenever a Bedouin caught dysentery, he or she would immediately eat a fistful of steaming camel droppings.
This made the camels much happier than it had any right to.
This somehow cured the disease, presumably because, while dysentery may be a malignant stomach-shredding condition, even it has standards. The Nazi scientists went to work on the camel poop and discovered the presence of Bacillus subtilis, a bacterium that seemed to be the only thing that could directly counter dysentery, sort of the Luke to its Anakin or the Batman to its Joker.
B. subtilis is still used today to combat virulent bacteria. In fact, it's used much in the same way as before. Doctors in Tampa, Florida, were able to cure a woman from a fatal bacterium by literally straining a healthy person's poop and then feeding it to her. The practice, known as a fecal transplant, is becoming more and more common to kill bacteria that have evolved to be immune to antibiotics, though we imagine the bedside discussion must be something to see.
"We're going to fill this entire area with shit. Then maybe you can reconsider the tone you take with our nurses."
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For more unexpected world changers, check out 5 Ways Porn Created the Modern World and The 7 Most Disastrous Typos Of All Time.