The builders of Stonehenge (and their dogs) were infested with parasites, the study found

Who were the founders of Stonehenge? This is the mystery that scientists have tried to solve more than 4,000 years after the construction of the megalithic monument on the Wiltshire plain in England. In the course of the studies, the veil began to unfold, providing information on their origin, their identity or even their way of life.

Now, this is a new aspect that has emerged through a new study published in the journal Parasitology. People in the Stonehenge area, as well as their dogs, are infected with intestinal parasites. Contamination is likely linked to consumption of undercooked offal, according to this research.

Found in coprolites

This is not the first time that signs of intestinal parasites have been found in ancient populations. In January, researchers said they found the same organisms in a pit under a 2,700-year-old stone toilet in Jerusalem, attesting to an elite with entrails.

Recently, a study published in February revealed signs of parasites in a 1,500 -year -old ceramic pottery discovered in the remains of a Roman villa in Sicily. The passage shows that the object was not used as a piece of crockery, as one might think, but as a “pot in the room”. At Stonehenge, however, the discovery was unprecedented.

The megaliths of Stonehenge, an archaeological mystery that has fascinated for centuries

This is the first time intestinal parasites have been discovered for the Neolithic period in Britain, and finding them around Stonehenge is one thing.“, confirmed in a press release, Dr. Piers Mitchell of the Department of Archeology at the University of Cambridge led the study.

It was from coprolites – fossilized excrement – that the group conducted their study. The corpses appear in a pit within the remains of the Durrington Walls, a vast Neolithic village less than two miles from Stonehenge. Dated to about 2500 BC, it may have been the place where the builders of the sandstone monoliths lived.

The researchers conducted their study using coprolite, fossilized waste, some of which appears to come from humans. © Mitchell et al., Parasitology 2022

Analyzes performed on 19 feces revealed that five of them (26%) contained eggs of intestinal parasites. Some larvae are helminth -like, some are family nematodes capillary, distinguished by their lemon shape, and other flatworms likely in the genus Diphyllobothrium.

Undercooked offal

Upon further examination, the researchers determined that one of the coprolites appeared to be of human origin while the other four were from dogs. Results that provide important dietary information to stakeholders. Intestinal parasites are often associated with the consumption of uncooked meat.

The presence of capillary especially suggests that the inhabitants at that time ate internal organs such as the liver, lungs or intestines of infected livestock. “‘Because that’s where the parasites used to live“, Justified by Dr. Mitchell sa Guardian. “It’s not just rubbing meat on the bone and throwing others away. ” he added.

On the left, a flatworm egg likely of the genus Diphyllobothrium was observed in coprolites. Right: a nematode egg from the Capillaria family, identified by the shape of a lemon © Mitchell et al., Parasitology 2022

According to the researchers, cattle are the most likely source of parasites known to infect ruminants. At the Durrington Walls site, more than 38,000 animal bones have emerged, 90% of them from pigs. The remaining almost 10%, however, will come from meat grown in other parts of England.

It is also important to find eggs in dog feces. He “showed that locals ate the internal organs of infected animals and fed the carcasses of their dogs“, explained Evilena Anastasiou, co-author of the study. The identification of one of the coprolites in larval eggs Diphyllobothrium more intriguing.

A place of feasts

These organisms are known to infect fish in fresh water. So they are more likely to be infected by eating raw or undercooked fish meat. Except no tracking of fish consumption is promoted at Durrington Walls.

This is what the Stonehenge landscape looks like before the monument was built

The village “occupied on a mostly seasonal basis, mainly during the winter. The dog [concerné] probably already infected with the parasiteMitchell. So many discoveries seem to prove that the Durrington Walls was a place of residence but also of festivals some 4,500 years ago.

The types of pests we have found fit past evidence of winter feasting on animal meat during the construction of Stonehenge.“said the researcher. It is difficult to say, however, whether the foods in question are special and rare events or whether they are organized on a regular basis.

Either way, the study brings valuable new information to complete the picture of the builders of Stonehenge. “Isotope studies of beef bones suggest they are from areas of the south of England, which is probably also true of people who live and work here.“, Endorsed by Dr. Mitchell.

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