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Throughout history, humans have been afflicted by parasitic worms, and eggs are readily detected in archaeological deposits. This study integrated parasitological and ancient DNA methods with a large sample set dating between Neolithic and Early Modern periods to explore the utility of molecular archaeoparasitology as a new approach to study the past. Molecular analyses provided unequivocal species-level parasite identification and revealed location-specific epidemiological signatures. Faecal-oral transmitted nematodes (Ascaris lumbricoides and Trichuris trichiura) were ubiquitous across time and space. By contrast, high numbers of food-associated cestodes (Diphyllobothrium latum and Taenia saginata) were restricted to medieval Lübeck. The presence of these cestodes and changes in their prevalence at approximately 1300 CE indicate substantial alterations in diet or parasite availability. Trichuris trichiura ITS-1 sequences grouped into two clades; one ubiquitous and one restricted to medieval Lübeck and Bristol. The high sequence diversity of T.tITS-1 detected in Lübeck is consistent with its importance as a Hanseatic trading centre. Collectively, these results introduce molecular archaeoparasitology as an artefact-independent source of historical evidence.

Original publication

DOI

10.1098/rspb.2018.0991

Type

Journal article

Journal

Proceedings. Biological sciences

Publication Date

03/10/2018

Volume

285

Addresses

Department of Zoology, Peter Medawar Building for Pathogen Research, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3SY, UK.

Keywords

Feces, Animals, Humans, Helminths, Trichuris, Trichuriasis, Parasite Egg Count, Parasitology, Cities, Archaeology, Cultural Evolution, History, Ancient, History, Medieval, History, 15th Century, History, 16th Century, History, 17th Century, Germany, Genetic Variation, DNA, Ancient