Saturday, July 23, 2005

Lewis and Clark's latrine


More than 200 years ago, before Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set off on their historic journey seeking a land route to the Pacific, they spent considerable time consulting with numerous experts, including a mathematician, an astronomer and a botanist.

Another of those experts was renowned physician Dr. Benjamin Rush, who gave the explorers 1,300 doses of a laxative known as Dr. Rush's Pills that were to be taken to ease any number of ailments. These pills were so strong that users called them "thunderclappers" or "thunderbolts."

While the effectiveness of those pills in curing illness may be questionable, there is no doubt they are the source of the only scientific documentation of a campsite set up by the intrepid explorers. That's because the pills were comprised principally of mercury, a toxic element that does not decompose.

So when vapor analysis verified the presence of mercury here — a location where mercury should not be found — authorities believed they had located the site of a latrine.

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