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Home / Science / Knives made of frozen droppings do not cut, which refutes the well-known legend

Knives made of frozen droppings do not cut, which refutes the well-known legend



  An example of a
Enlarge / An example of a "hand-formed" knife blade that anthropologists at Kent State University made from frozen human feces.

The famous anthropologist Wade Davis created an academic urban legend with his account of an older Inuit man in the 1

950s who made a knife out of his own frozen feces and disappeared into the Arctic. This is the conclusion of a new study by experimental anthropologists from Kent State University, who have their own frozen feces blades – for science! – prepared and tested under ideal conditions on pigskin, muscles and tendons. The knives failed with each test.

As Davis reported in his 1998 Shadows in the Sun book, the Inuit man's family had taken away his tools to persuade him to leave the ice and join them in a settlement. Unimpressed, the man "emerged from the igloo, emptied and peeled the feces to a frozen blade, which he sharpened with a puff of saliva," Davis wrote. "With the knife he killed a dog, with his chest as a sled and his skin to tie another dog, he disappeared in the dark."

Davis admitted that the story could be apocryphal; his source was the grandson of the man in question. However, there is a similar, credible report by the Danish Arctic explorer Peter Freuchen from the same period who made a chisel out of his own excrement when he was trapped in a snow hole.

A story that spread naturally as well as wildfire, not only in academic literature but also in popular culture. Kent State anthropologist Metin Eren heard it for the first time as a teenager. "That's one of the reasons I chose anthropology," he admitted. Now he's running a state-of-the-art Experimental Archeology lab, recreating and testing historical tools and other artifacts to see how well they work. There are ateliers for pottery and woodwork, a ballistic assortment for shooting replica arrows, metalworking equipment and so on. "Basically, we can make any artifact from the last 3 million years of human technology," Eren said.

"I'm in my house and shit in a bag and make knives out of my own stink."

Discouraged by In the current era of fake news and alternative facts, Eren was inspired to recreate the frozen foxometer from Wade's famous report to illustrate the importance of data and scientific testing. He and his colleague Michelle Bebber decided to use their own feces for the experiments instead of burdening a low-skilled student. For eight days, Eren was on a diet rich in meat and fat, typical of an Arctic diet: beef, turkey, salmon, perch, meatballs, sausages, salami, eggs, and the like.

"It was tougher than I thought I had so much protein and so many fatty acids exclusively," he said. In the meantime, Bebber kept checking on her typical Western diet: yogurt, lentils and rice, cheeseburgers, bagels and cream cheese, spaghetti and so on. Then they collected all their feces and froze them when they had a bowel movement.

"It's funny because we have this amazing lab," Eren said, but this week, "I'm not in the lab – I'm pooping in my house in a bag and making knives out of my own Feces, that was kind of depressing. "

They built the feces with ceramic molds or simply used their hands to mold the feces into a rudimentary blade before sharpening them with a metal file after they had frozen firmly. Then it was time to test them.

There was no need to actually slaughter a dog. Eren and Bebber used pigskin – cold and hairless -, muscles and tendons. The meat they used was chilled, as opposed to a fresh meat that would have been warm, and the knives were chilled to -50 ° C (-58 ° F) in dry ice before being cut. "We really wanted to give our knives the best possible chance of success," Eren said.

Even under these ideal laboratory conditions, none of the molded or hand-molded feces managed to cut through the skin. The knives simply melted on contact, leaving brown streaks (smears marks) in molten droppings. They managed to make flat slices on the subcutaneous fat on the underside of the skin, but the knife edge still melted fast and became unusable.

"I was amazed that human excrement could become as hard as it did when it was frozen." Eren said. "So I thought to myself, 'God, that could actually work.'" That made it all the more discouraging when we did the test. "

However, the authors found that cutting in one Space at a temperature of about 10 ° C (50 ° F) had been performed, and therefore future experiments could investigate colder contexts. "Does this mean that Freuch's report is also an urban legend?" Not necessarily, Granted, Freuchen is the only source of his story, with no confirmatory evidence. "A chisel is a very different tool than a knife," the authors wrote. "The usage mechanisms are different, and the processed substrates in the Inuit and Freuchen cases are different. The Inuit case shows the cutting and cutting motions on tissues, muscles and tendons. The Freuchen case shows the pounding and popping of snow. "

As legend has multiplied for so long, Eren thinks that the Native and Aboriginal people were indeed able to make some impressive technologies from rudimentary materials the Inuit man underpinned this positive attitude, and given its excellent reputation, the story essentially took a breakthrough in the literature rather than being rigorously tested.

Stories that support an attitude become a slippery slope because then you can use another unsupported story without data, "Eren said. "If you run out of data, you can also use unsupported stories to support attitudes that are detrimental to society, [like] racial prejudice, science is an important control for this kind of urban legend, in times of alternate reality and facts. " Fake news, data-driven, evidence-based science is needed more than ever.

DOI: Journal of Archaeological Science, 2019. 10.1016 / j.jasrep.2019.102002 (About DOIs).


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