Fossils tell us a lot about ancient life, but there are some things that are almost never found fossilized, such as internal organs. Even fecal matter has managed to become fossilized, and fossil dinosaur dung is called coprolites. Various samples of it have been found, not only from dinosaurs, but mammoths and even prehistoric sharks.

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Now, from the Umbrian Badlands of Italy comes a unique find. Judging from bits of squid beaks found in a rock sample, it appears that scientists have found the first sample of fossilized ambergris, or whale droppings. Ambergris is produced by sperm whales to protect their digestive system as they consume their multi-tentacled prey or eat bones or teeth of other animals.

While people have long believed ambergris was vomited by the square-headed cetaceans, it does in fact come from the other end of their digestive system. The sample in question was recovered in 2011 by a group from the University of Perugia in a section of Umbria known for Pleistocene ocean remains, especially sperm whales.

After long study, the Italian team found traces of squid molecules and mammalian digestive chemicals in the fossil, and although the analysis isn’t 100 percent foolproof, fossilized whale poop is the most logical answer at this time.

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August 19, 2013 · 1:03 am

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