Power from Poo! And, should archaeology strive for modern day relevance?

I had one of those moments this morning when I realised how odd my career sounds to those outside academia, as I found myself Googling 'Newcastle poo blog' in an attempt to find a blog I came across a few weeks ago, when I posted a fab cartoon called 'A Day in the Life of Poo'. Are there many people out there who talk about poo on a semi-regular basis? Parents of small children perhaps. My own work on poo has been on the fossilised variety, known as coprolites, but I also follow research on modern faecal analysis, particularly biofuel research and waste water analysis, as both are related to my work and interests. My research on the use of animal dung and reeds as fuel in prehistory for example draws heavily on studies of the modern use of such fuels, and how we can use archaeological case studies to inform modern biofuel policy. Likewise, one of the main methods that I use to analyse archaeological materials, faecal biomarker analysis, was developed by environmental chemists to detect sewage and agricultural pollution in lakes and rivers. So, when I was browsing the website of Newcastle University's Civil Engineering and Geosciences, I was very excited to see another faecal-themed blog, Power from Poo. The blog belongs to a researcher at Newcastle who is developing a new technology to treat waste water that uses less energy than existing methods, whilst also producing energy and/or useful chemical products. The blog also has loads of great info on how sewage provides energy for the national grid! Power from poo, it's been around a long time.

Although the Power from Poo research is based firmly in the present, the broad overlap in themes with my archaeological work  reminds me how a lot of the research that (geo)archaeologists do has much unrealised potential, and can actually be limited in scope as we focus on the past without thinking how it can inform the future. There are so many opportunities for real interdisciplinary work where archaeology could have impact beyond the heritage sector. Some would argue that archaeology shouldn't need to have any impact beyond furthering our understanding of human history, and the focus of archaeology should be an inherent interest in the past. Maybe it's my geoscience background, but I'm inclined to think it should be a mix of the two. I would be interested to hear if you, readers, have any opinions on this? Should archaeology strive for modern day relevance?

Microbial Electrolysis Cell: producing energy from domestic wastewater and an agricultural waste (image by Power from Poo)


  1. I heard an interesting interview about research looking into mining valuable metals and minerals (like gold) from solid waste. Really interesting!


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