The Bronze Age was a fairly miserable time to be alive, full of stomach problems, lousy diet, and crushed kidneys, according to the mounds of centuries-old feces recently discovered in a British marshes.
The fossilized feces discovered at a former farm was found to be filled with tiny eggs, according to a recent archaeological survey. This clearly demonstrates that the farm-dwellers’ bodies were home to a nasty group of parasitic species, including the “giant kidney worm” that can grow up to a meter in length.
Archaeologists from the University of Cambridge recently conducted an excavation at Must Farm, a 3,000-year-old village discovered on the outskirts of Peterborough in the east of the UK. Around 3,000 years ago, a massive fire decimated the 11,840 square foot (1,100 square meter) community, causing the wooden houses to collapse into a river, preserving the contents in place. Must Farm has been termed “Britain’s Pompeii” because of the high caliber of the objects that have been preserved and the size of the site.
The researchers employed microscopy methods to find ancient parasite eggs after collecting and analyzing human “coprolites,” or pieces of fossilized excrement, that were left in the damp ground. Their findings were published in the journal Parasitology. As you might expect, what they found wasn’t pretty: abundant indications of Capillaria dog works, huge kidney worms (Dioctophyma renale), pig whipworms, and fish tapeworms.
Lead researcher Dr. Piers Mitchell of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology said in a statement, “We have identified the oldest evidence for fish tapeworm, Echinostoma worm, and gigantic kidney worm in Britain.
“By consuming uncooked aquatic creatures like fish, amphibians, and mollusks, these parasites are disseminated. Living near slowly moving water may have shielded the locals from some parasites, but if they consumed fish or frogs, they ran the risk of contracting others.”
The enormous kidney worm is a particularly repulsive parasite. The largest known parasitic nematode infecting humans, adult females can grow to be over one meter (3 feet) long. The larvae move through the stomach wall to the liver and subsequently to the kidney where they feed on mineral deposits after being eaten by a host.
In the majority of pre-modern history, parasites were widespread due to poor hygiene and intimate contact with animals. For the infected individual, they might not be very enjoyable, but they do give us a remarkably comprehensive understanding of people’s diets, habits, and environments.
These people were unable to document their life because writing was not invented until the Romans arrived in Britain hundreds of years later. According to the first author, Marissa Ledger, “this research gives us a comprehensive understanding of the infectious diseases that the prehistoric people who lived in the Fens suffered.