Builders of Stonehenge left poop behind them, and now we know what was in them

(ORDO NEWS) — Humans have a long and rich history of dealing with intestinal parasites, and this is etched into our poop.

From Jerusalem to Rome to Greece, archaeologists have dug into ancient excrement to better understand the diets and diseases of civilizations long gone.

Findings to date suggest that intestinal parasite epidemics have plagued both the rich and the poor in Europe for millennia.

The people who built Stonehenge probably also carried these tiny worms.

At the nearby settlement of Durrington Walls, a Neolithic site where archaeologists believe the builders of Stonehenge once lived, researchers have discovered intestinal parasite eggs lurking in five fossilized feces.

The surviving poop, or coprolite, is over 4,500 years old; one was human and four were canine. Four of the five coprolites contained lemon-shaped eggs of capillarid worms.

These tapeworms have been known to infect cattle and other grazing animals, and the fact that the eggs were found in human poop gives archaeologists a clue as to what Neolithic people may have been eating at the time Stonehenge was built.

Researchers suspect that when the people of Darington created the ancient timekeeping system that survives to this day, they consumed raw or undercooked cow intestines, lungs or liver.

If a cow was infected with a tapeworm before winter slaughter, the parasite could easily end up in the human intestine and then pass right through.

“The finding of capillary worm eggs in both human and canine coprolites indicates that people ate the internal organs of infected animals and also fed leftover food to their dogs,” says paleopathologist Evilena Anastasiou, who conducted the study while working at the University of Cambridge.

The findings are supported by previous archaeological research at Durrington, which indicates that cattle were regularly slaughtered during the winter.

Chemical analysis shows that some of the cattle killed during the winter were brought to Durrington from other parts of southern England, possibly even from northern England.

In addition to four coprolites with capillary worms, the fifth coprolite – from a dog – contained traces of a tapeworm that infects freshwater fish (probably Dibothriocephalus dendriticus).

The authors say the find is “intriguing” given that there is very little evidence of late Neolithic fishing in Britain. However, it seems that somehow the dog managed to catch the fish.

“This is the first time intestinal parasites have been found in Neolithic Britain, and finding them around Stonehenge is really something,” says archaeologist Piers Mitchell of the University of Cambridge.

“The type of parasites we found is consistent with previous evidence of winter feeding of animals during the construction of Stonehenge.”

And all this from tiny eggs.

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