Parasites found in prehistoric feces found near Stonehenge

(ORDO NEWS) — The inhabitants of Durrington Walls ate meat with worms, and fed the leftovers to their dogs.

A group of archaeologists from the University of Cambridge (UK), led by Professor Piers Mitchell, examined 19 coprolites (fragments of ancient feces), which were discovered during previous excavations in a Neolithic settlement on the Salisbury Plain.

Durrington Walls is a Neolithic monument located about three kilometers from Stonehenge. It was first explored in the middle of the last century and decided that it was just a Neolithic settlement surrounded by an earthen rampart. And the proximity to the stone giants of Stonehenge suggested that the builders of megaliths lived in the settlement.

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Discoveries made with the help of new technologies already in this century suggest that the version of the builders’ village was most likely erroneous.

Recently found system of pits and menhirs combines three megalithic sites – Durrington Walls, Woodhenge and Larkhill – into a single whole. At the same time, their date of construction approximately coincides with the date of the construction of Stonehenge.

In other words, it is unlikely that construction workers lived in Durrington Walls. It is much more likely that these megaliths are an example of a different ritual tradition, possibly not related to Stonehenge.

The coprolites found in Durrington Walls are approximately 4,500 years old. In five of them, tests revealed the eggs of parasitic worms. And only one of the samples is human feces, the other four are dog feces.

This appears to be the earliest evidence of intestinal parasites in Britain. Four coprolites, including a human one, contained eggs of the parasitic worms Capillariidae , which were identified, in part, by their shape.

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These worms have an unusual life cycle, involving at least two other animals. The worms first infect animals, such as rats, which accidentally ingest eggs from the environment. The eggs then attach themselves to the animal’s internal organs such as the liver, lungs, and intestines.

They mature, and as they grow, the worms begin to devour the organs and then reproduce asexually, producing more and more eggs.

Then the infected (and weakening as the worms multiply) animals become victims of large predators. As a result, the eggs pass through the digestive tract of the predator, after which they are thrown back into the environment to be swallowed by another host.

Modern humans are known to be infected by two species of Capillariidae worms : Capillaria hepatica and Capillaria philippinensis . The disease they cause is called capillariasis, and if left untreated, it can be fatal.

However, the inhabitant of Durrington Walls was most likely not infected with worms. Otherwise, the eggs would not have entered the feces, because they would have settled in the internal organs and hatched.

Most likely, a person ate the meat of an infected animal and passed on the eggs, as a predator would do in the wild. Well, the dogs were left with the leftovers of the feast – and so they received their share of parasites.

During excavations in Durrington Walls, archaeologists unearthed pottery and stone tools, as well as more than 38,000 animal bones. About 90 percent of the bones belonged to pigs and less than 10 percent to cows. Because Capillariidae worms infect cattle and pigs, these animals could be the most likely source of parasite eggs.

The authors of the work suggest that people ate offal – the lungs and liver of pigs and cows. In this case, the heat treatment was insufficient.

One of the coprolites, which belonged to a dog, contained the eggs of a fish tapeworm (tapeworm). This indicates that the animal had previously eaten raw freshwater fish and became infected. However, no other evidence of fish consumption, such as bones, was found at the site.

The latter gave scientists the opportunity to assume that Durrington Walls was not permanently inhabited, and people (along with dogs) came there only in certain seasons.

So far, this hypothesis is rather speculative. Unlike Stonehenge, where there are very few domestic finds, in the settlements on the Salisbury Plain, archaeologists have found all signs of a normally existing Neolithic community.

The geographical proximity to Stonehenge is, of course, fascinating, but it is still more likely that the people of Durrington Walls and Woodhenge are carriers of a different cultural tradition.


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