New research published today in the journal Parasitology shows how the prehistoric inhabitants of a settlement in the freshwater swamps of eastern England were infected by intestinal worms, and who forage in the lakes and waterways their homes were caught around.
The Bronze Age settlement of Must Farm near present-day Fenlands Peterborough consisted of wooden houses built on stilts over the water. Wooden dams joined islands in the swamp, and dugout canoes drove along water channels.
The village burned down in a catastrophic fire some 3,000 years ago, with artifacts from the houses kept in the mud below the waterline, including food. Fabric and jewelry. The site was called "British Pompeii".
1; pieces of human fecal matter – were also kept in the surrounding mud, which were now collected and analyzed by archaeologists at the University of Cambridge. They used microscopy techniques to detect old parasitic eggs in the feces and surrounding sediment.
Very little is known about the intestinal diseases of the British Bronze Age. In a previous study of a farming village in Somerset, nematodes and whipworms were detected: parasites that spread through the contamination of food with human fecal matter.
The ancient excrements of the Anglic Marsh tell a different story. "We found the earliest evidence of fish tapeworms, echinostoma worm and giant kidney worms in the UK," said study lead Dr. Piers Mitchell from the Cambridge Department of Archeology. marsh diet "Bronze age Fen people infected with parasites" title = "Excavation of the Must Farm" pile-dwelling settlement, showing the main body of the collapsed settlement in its river silt matrix. Credit: D. Webb, Cambridge Archaeological Unit "/>
Excavation of Must Farm, which shows the main part of the collapsed settlement in its river mud matrix. Picture credits: D. Webb, Cambridge Archaeological Unit
"These parasites are spread by eating raw aquatic animals such as fish, amphibians, and mollusks, and living on slow-moving water may protect the inhabitants from parasites, but endangers them for others eating fish or frogs."
The dumping of human and animal waste into the water around the settlement was likely to prevent direct fouling of food by the fencers, thus preventing an infection with roundworms whose eggs were found at sites throughout the Bronze Age throughout Europe.  However, due to the thick reed beds, the water in the bogs would have remained fairly stable, so that waste would have accumulated in the surrounding canals. Researchers say that this probably provided fertile ground for other parasites to infect local wildlife, which – when consumed raw or poorly cooked – spreads to villagers.
"Introducing excrement into the freshwater canal where the settlement was built, and eating environmental aquatic organisms was an ideal match for infection with various types of intestinal parasites," study lead author Marissa Ledger said. also from the Cambridge Department of Archeology.
Fish tapeworms can reach a length of 10 m and live in the intestine. Heavy infections can lead to anemia. Giant worms can grow up to a meter long. They gradually destroy the organ as they grow, causing kidney failure. Echinostoma Worms are much smaller and up to 1 cm long. A serious infection can lead to inflammation of the intestinal mucosa.
"Because it was only centuries later written to the UK by the Romans, these people could not record what had happened to them throughout their lives, and this research allows us to be clear about the infectious diseases of the primeval people living in the Venn for the first time understand, "Ledger said.
The Cambridge team worked with colleagues from the Department of Organic Chemistry at the University of Bristol to determine if coprolites excavated from homes were human or animal. While some were humans, others were from dogs.
"Both humans and dogs were infected by similar parasitic worms, suggesting that people shared their food or leftovers with their dogs," Ledger said.
Other parasites that infect On the site were also found animals, including pig whipworm and capillaria worm. It is thought that they came from the slaughter and consumption of the intestines of useful or hunting animals, but humans probably did no harm.
The researchers compared their latest data with earlier studies on ancient Bronze Age and Neolithic parasites. Must Farm has the trend that fewer species of parasites were found in the Bronze Age than in the Neolithic.
"Our study fits the broader pattern of parasite ecosystem shrinkage over time," Mitchell said. "Changes in diet, hygiene and human-animal relationships over millennia have affected the rate of parasitic infections." Although he points out that infections with the fish tapeworm found on Must Farm have resurfaced recently due to the popularity of sushi, smoked salmon and ceviche.
"We must now examine other locations in prehistoric Britain where people lived a different lifestyle to understand how our ancestral lifestyles affected the risk of developing contagious diseases," Mitchell added.
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Marissa L. Ledger et al., Intestinal parasites in the Late Bronze Age colonization of Must Farm in the bogs of East Anglia, UK (9th century BC), Parasitology (2019). DOI: 10.1017 / S0031182019001021
Original feces reveal how the & # 39; sump diet & # 39; Bronze Age Fen People Infected with Parasites Left Behind (2019, August 15)
retrieved on 15 August 2019
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