How the rock hyrax's toilet habits left climate scientists a 55,000-year trail | Science | The Observer
"Hyraxes use the same place to pee every day," said project leader Brian Chase of Montpelier University in France. "The crucial point is that hyrax urine – which is thick and viscous and dries quickly – contains pollen, bits of leaves, grasses, and gas bubbles that provide a clear picture of the climate at the time.
"Once we have found a good layer of solid urine, we dig out samples and remove them for study. We are taking the piss, quite literally – and it is proving to be a highly effective way to study how climate changes have affected local environments."
Chase's project, based in South Africa, has already shown that the region's climate has been sharply affected by events that have occurred in distant regions, including the Arctic and Antarctic.
"There were several events not long after the end of the last Ice Age when there were dramatic drops in temperature in the Arctic. These were due to great lakes of melted ice water bursting into the ocean.
"They had a huge local impact in northern Europe but we did not know how the rest of the planet was affected. Thanks to rock hyrax urine from the period, we have an answer. There was significant cooling in South Africa, and presumably the rest of the planet, at the time."