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Paleo Slide Set: Packrat Middens: Vegetation & Climate Variability in the Southwestern United States
Laboratory preparation of midden sample.
The fieldwork associated with packrat midden analysis is very rewarding. Scientists conduct their research on cliffs and outcroppings with spectacular views, identifying the floral composition and relative age of the middens on the spot; the laboratory is where the tedious work begins. The midden sample, often as hard as a rock, is carefully cleaned with hammer and chisel, then immersed in water for one to two weeks to dissolve the crystallized urine and release the plant and animal remains. These remains are then dried in an oven. Each midden sample may contain tens of thousands of plant parts, which are sorted by species and either enumerated or weighed. The sorted materials are archived and then mined for special studies, which include the extraction and sequencing of ancient DNA.

Photo Credits:
Kenneth L. Cole
U. S. Geological Survey
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Last Modified: 12 October 2001

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