Abstract

Probable fossil ambergris occurs within early Pleistocene shallow-marine clay deposits in western Umbria (central Italy). More than 25 large, permineralized structures are scattered over an area of ∼1200 m2. These are commonly convex to elongated, helicoidal to concentric, calcium carbonate–rich structures, 30–60 cm high and 60–120 cm wide. Permineralized squid beaks and altered organic matter occur inside these structures. Preliminary chemical data reveal the presence of organic molecules compatible with the degradation of cellular lipids, whose cholic acids indicate the presence of mammalian gastric or intestinal activity; eight free amino acids were also found. The results allow the identification of these structures as intestinal products of sperm whales living ∼1.75 m.y. ago. The described fossil structures represent the only known example of Pleistocene sperm whale coprolites.

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