In a peer-reviewed piece of myth-busting research, scientists have sadly concluded it is not possible, even in the polar winter, to freeze your own shit and use it as a knife. Just in case you were wondering.
Explorer Wade Davis tells the story in his book Shadows in the Sun of an Inuit man whose family took his tools away in an effort to force him to move to a settlement. According to the story, which has since become wildly popular online (more bacterial than viral we think), the old man took a dump outside the igloo and shaped it into a knife. In the bitter cold, this became hard enough for him to use it to kill a dog, turn its rib cage into a sled and have another dog pull him into the trackless wilderness.
The story has myth-like elements, and many have questioned its veracity. Although Davis attributes the tale to the grandson of the hero, even he admits it may be “apocryphal”. Scientists at Kent State University decided the world needed the truth, and if no one else was willing to do the dirty work of trying to weaponize their own turds they would step into the breach.
In the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports these literal party poopers report fecal knives are crap.
For maximum authenticity first author Dr Metin Erin adopted an Inuit-like diet high in protein and fatty acids for eight days. After four days, he and colleagues began collecting the fecal samples (hopefully with gloves) and shaping them, both by hand and in molds, at temperatures of -20ºC (-4ºF).
The butchery of dogs being frowned upon by most research institutions, Erin and co-authors obtained pig meat, tendons and hide, which were thawed to 4ºC (40ºF). To make absolutely certain the knives were cold enough, they were placed in dry ice at -50ºC (-62ºF) for several minutes.
Erin and co-authors confess they could not get close to cutting hide, let alone muscle or tendon. “Despite the hide being cold from refrigeration, instead of slicing through it the knife-edge simply melted upon contact, leaving streaks of fecal matter,” they report. Just to be sure, they tried using another team member’s poop, and did no better. This is despite, as they note, the chances of cutting a cold hairless pig hide are better than those of a warm, thick furred dog.
The intrepid team did not test a somewhat similar account, that the 20th-century Arctic explorer Peter Freuchen dug himself out of a snowdrift using a chisel made of his own feces. However, they note frozen dung is more suited to chiseling ice than cutting flesh.
[H/T: Dr Jens Foell on Twitter]