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article imageArchaeological dig unearths ancient parasite eggs

By Tim Sandle     Jan 5, 2015 in Environment
Basel - Investigators have unearthed eggs of intestinal parasites in samples from a former Celtic settlement. From this, the scientists argue that the population lived in poor sanitary conditions.
The research team has been examining samples from the "Basel-Gasfabrik" Celtic settlement in Switzerland. The settlement was inhabited around 100 B.C. and it is regarded as one of the most significant Celtic sites in Central Europe.
Using special research methods, termed “geoarchaelogical”, the researchers discovered three different and distinct types of parasites. With these novel methods, micromorphological thin sections are prepared. These ultra-thin slices allow parasite eggs to be captured within their original settings. The sections are prepared by placing soil samples (which would have included remnants of human feces) within in synthetic resin. This method allows scientists to determine the number and exact location of the eggs.
Applying the special techniques, scientists reported eggs of roundworms (Ascaris sp.), whipworms, (Trichuris sp.) and liver flukes (Fasciola sp.). The eggs of these intestinal parasites were found within 2000 year-old storage and cellar pits, dating back to the Iron Age. The Iron Age is an archaeological term indicates the condition as to civilization and culture of a people using iron as the material for their cutting tools and weapons.
Such nematodes are commonly parasitic on humans and have been associated with humans for thousands of years. Taking one of the parasites as an example — the whipworm — shows how the cycle of infection is repeated. Whipworms eggs are passed in the feces of infected persons, and if an infected person defecates outside, eggs are deposited on soil where they can mature into an infective stage. Ingestion of these eggs often happens when hands or fingers that have contaminated dirt on them are put in the mouth.
On this basis, the findings inform about practices during the Iron Age. For example, since liver flukes require freshwater snails to serve as intermediate hosts, it is probable that this type of parasite was introduced through livestock brought in from the surrounding areas.
The research was conducted at the University of Basel. The findings have been published in Journal of Archaeological Science. The paper is title “Life in the proto-urban style: the identification of parasite eggs in micromorphological thin sections from the Basel-Gasfabrik Late Iron Age settlement, Switzerland.”
More about Parasites, Celtic, Roundworm, whipworms, liver flukes
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