No, knives made from frozen human feces do not work
Making a knife from frozen human feces is not an effective way to make a knife.
Until Thursday I had lived happily without knowing the poop knife. You probably had too. During the IgNobel Awards, a research team from Kent State University and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History won the Materials Science Award for making and testing knives from frozen human feces. The poop knife is real.
Her study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports in October 2019, describes the process of freezing and shaping a knife from human excrement and testing its ability to cut through pig skin.
Wild. But let’s step back a little.
First of all, why? The researchers refer to the book “Shadows of the Sun” by the anthropologist Wade Davis. The novel describes the difficulties (“a well-known account”) of an old Inuit man who was about to be evicted from his home and dragged into a settlement. He refused to leave, so his family took away his tools, presumably to get him to move. Apparently he set about making his own tools by dropping his pants and pooing on the ice. Then “he sharpened the feces into a frozen blade, which he sharpened with a saliva spray.”
But the scientists were skeptical. How much truth was there in this story?
To find out, the lead researcher ate an “arctic diet” high in protein and fatty acids for eight days and began collecting his feces for five days on the fourth day. The feces were then shaped into a knife using molds or by hand shaping the poop. You can see one of the hand-formed knives in the article above.
The team stored the knives at -58 degrees Fahrenheit before attempting to cut thawed pig skin, muscles, and tendons.
No fecal knife could cut through the skin. There were some flat slices on the underside of the skin and that was it. Even more impressive, however, the team used another researcher’s stool samples and tried again – but this researcher’s diet was “more traditionally Western”. Same result.
The team concluded that “knives made from frozen human feces are not functional”. Hard to argue with. They find that they gave their knives the best possible chance of success and still did not register a deep cut. They note that the saliva used in the Inuit man’s account is also not used in their study, but they are skeptical that it would help.
Ultimately, they say, “Anthropologists must actively look for unsupported claims, assumptions, rumors, and urban legends and, through testing, ensure that all subsequent narratives are as robust as possible,” and untested claims can violate the widely supported narrative of indigenous and prehistoric populations are technologically resourceful and innovative.
Other IgNobel winners Thursday included a study that examined eyebrows to identify narcissists and the management award, which went to five professional killers in China who were contracted for a hit job and then subcontracted for a fee were forgiven … without anyone actually committing the murder.
You can see the winners list here, but the poop knife pulls out the coveted CNET IgNobel of the year that I just invented.