Thursday, March 22 , 2018, 10:12 pm | Light Rain Fog/Mist 57º


Paul Burri: The Coprolite Caper

Dinosaur deposits can make a great gag gift

For years, a friend and I have been playing practical jokes on each other. One time at a charity event at which they were auctioning off useless items, Nick used my paddle number to get me to pay $47 for a copy of the “1934-1937 Water Statistics Tables of the City of Enid, Ill.” I vowed I’d get even with him some day.

Paul Burri
Paul Burri

A few years later I was browsing through a Scientific American magazine when I came across an advertisement for an unusual item. They were advertising coprolites for sale.

What’s a coprolite, you ask? A coprolite is — in plain old English — a fossilized turd. I know it sounds crazy, and perhaps a joking matter, but just think of it. Once in a while we find the fossil of a dinosaur and of course there is a lot of excitement because of its rarity and value to anthropologists and paleontologists. But now think about this: That same dinosaur lived for many years before it died and during all those years, it had time to make a lot of “deposits” here and there. And it may not surprise you that those same paleontologists are very interested in those coprolites because they tell them what the animal was eating during its lifetime.

So anyway, here was this ad for coprolites that were selling for $49.95. Please don’t ask me what one would do with one of these things if one weren’t a paleontologist. But the ad gave me a great idea and I cut it out.

Nick had a birthday coming up and this was the chance I had been waiting for.

I bought a large lump of clay and fashioned it into a long, cylindrical object. (Are you following me, here?) Then I wrapped it up in several layers of aluminum foil and then in a plastic bag. Then I put the whole thing into a nicely wrapped gift box and on the top of it I taped a copy of the coprolite advertisement plus the following note:

Dear Nick,

Happy birthday to the man who has everything. I saw this ad and immediately thought of you. I was going to buy one of these for you but then, on second thought, I had an idea, “Why should I spend that much money for an old piece of crap when I can get him something newer and fresher for a whole lot less?” So I went out in my back yard and found the enclosed. I’m sure you will find some special place to display it.

Hope you have a great birthday and many more.


I didn’t hear from Nick for a long time after that.

P.S. Anyone interested in buying a book about the water usage in a town in Illinois?

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business but he is a small business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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