How to Identify Coprolite (5 Tips for Beginners)

Coprolite is a fascinating stone.

It is actually a fossil, and most often used by scientists for research.

However, it can be found as jewelry and decorative pieces, as well.

It is various shades of brown, usually found in a spiral formation.

It is a very distinct and fairly recognizable stone.

However, coprolite can be confused with other stones, so it is important to be able to recognize it.

Here are a few tips to help you discern a real coprolite stone from a different stone.

How to Identify Coprolite

First of all, what exactly is coprolite?

First discovered by paleontologist Mary Anning in the early 1800s, coprolite is actually fossilized dinosaur feces.

It comes from the Greek word “kopros”, meaning dung, and “lithos”, meaning stone.

It is, quite literally, a dung stone.

Since the only feces that is able to fossilize without breaking down first is that from carnivores, it is commonly composed mostly of calcium phosphate from the digested bone.

Although it is most often used by scientists to study the behavior of our prehistoric ancestors, many people opt to use it as jewelry, decoration, or even for spiritual practices.

Paleoscatologists (scientists who study really old poop) have traced coprolites back to prehistoric crocodiles, aquatic creatures, dinosaurs (obviously), and even humans.

It really is a very interesting stone.

How to identify coprolite

There are always specific markers that can help you identify coprolite.

Here are some of the best tips to follow when finding one of these stones.

What color is it?

Coprolite has a predictable color: brown.

You won’t be finding pretty pink, purple, or green stones with this fossil.

Polished coprolite that you often find in jewelry and beading will vary in tone from light to dark, sometimes with a reddish hue.

But, coprolite in the rough is brown, cracked, and dusty-looking.

What shape is it in?

For coprolite, the shape is its strongest identifying feature.

Since it’s a fossil, it has hardened in the same shape as it came out – in pellets like from a rabbit, patties like from a cow, chunks like from a zebra, or, most commonly, in a spiral shape, like from your dog.

It is an unambiguously poopy shape, so if it’s brown, hard, and looks like it was just pumped out of a frozen yogurt machine, you’ve most likely found your match.

Where did it come from?

With coprolite, location is everything.

Although dinosaurs roamed all over the world, they tended to live near streams, rivers, and waterbeds.

This is most commonly where coprolite is found.

Another good clue is what else is around it.

If it is a site known for other prehistoric findings, such as plants, bones, and teeth, then that is a good indicator that you’ve stumbled upon a coprolite fossil.

Does it have inclusions?

While inclusions in most stones usually consist of bands and discolorations caused by different minerals trapped in the stone during the formation, coprolite contains other types of inclusions.

These usually consist of pieces of undigested matter that the dinosaur ate.

Sometimes fossilized seeds, plants, insects, or even bones and teeth have been discovered inside coprolite.

These fossils can contain any number of inclusions that point to what era it was from, what it ate, and how it lived.

How does it feel?

Before we can understand how we can identify this stone through touch, we need to first understand how coprolite is formed.

It is similar to how other fossils are formed, especially petrified wood.

The feces from carnivorous dinosaurs must be buried in soil pretty quickly so as to deprive it of oxygen.

Without oxygen, the decomposing process is stopped.

As time goes by, it is exposed to water and it absorbs the minerals.

The minerals help it harden through crystallization, which, then, transforms the poop into stone.

Because the feces is primarily composed of calcium phosphate, it turns into a relatively soft and porous stone.

If you put a damp finger on the stone, it should (generally) feel slightly sticky.

There are some coprolite stones that have gone through a rougher fossilization process, which renders the calcium phosphate harder, in which case the sticky finger test won’t work.

But, those coprolites are much rarer, so the sticky finger test is fairly reliable.

So, how can you be sure that you have coprolite and not another brown stone?

If you happen to dig up some coprolite out in the wild, it is pretty easy to recognize.

It has that distinct, poopy shape that is hard to miss.

However, if you’re not careful, it can also be mistaken for poop that’s not yet fossilized.

So, if you find a poopy-looking stone in the ground, maybe poke it with a stick first.

If it’s soft or it crumbles, chances are that you haven’t found a fossil. 

Coprolite can also be easily confused with other brown tumbled stones if you’re looking for a decorative coprolite piece or coprolite jewelry.

Brown jasper is an opaque stone that is similar in color, but it generally has banding that coprolite doesn’t have.

Brown obsidian could almost be identical in looks, as can brown agate and even brown pietersite.

But, your best bet at differentiating coprolite will be in how it feels.

It is much lighter, more porous, and more delicate than those other stones, which is the easiest indicator.

It is important to be able to recognize coprolite

Coprolite may not be the most expensive stone, but it is a little piece of history, and therefore it is very valuable to be able to recognize it.

You also want to be sure that you’re properly taking care of it.

Like most fossils, it is pretty delicate, so you want to handle it with care.

Polished coprolite will be the most durable, since all the rough edges will have been smoothed away and it will be coated in a layer of polish, which helps prevent chipping.

To clean, it can be rinsed under cool, running water, but make sure to dry it as soon as possible so that the water doesn’t penetrate the pores.

Coprolite is an incredible stone.

Each piece is historic and tells you about those who came before us.

If you have a piece of coprolite, know that you have a very special stone.

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how to identify coprolite