Neolithic builders who constructed Stonehenge infected by parasitic worms from raw food

A recent study published Cambridge University Press has discovered that the Neolithic builders of Stonehenge suffered from endoparasites which they had contracted from the raw foods that they ate or the food was undercooked. The researchers analysed 19 samples of fossilised faeces in a “midden” (a dunghill or refuse heap) at Durrington Walls which was a large Neolithic settlement in Britain dating around 2500 BCE and which is located very close to Stonehenge. It is thought that the builders of Stonehenge lived at this campsite.

Neolithic builders of Stonehenge acquired intestinal parasites from raw or uncooked fish and meat. Image by Pexels from Pixabay

The study summary states that five of the fossilised faeces contained helminth eggs, one of which was of a fish tapeworm and four contained capillariid nematodes. They decided that one of these fossilised faeces was from a human and the other four were likely to derive from dogs. They decided that the presence of fish tapeworm indicated that Neolithic people who gathered to feast at Durrington Walls were infected by this tapeworm through eating raw or undercooked freshwater fish.

Regarding the capillariid nematodes, they decided that the dogs ate the leftovers of human food which were the internal organs i.e. liver, lung or intestines, of animals with capillariasis. These internal organs were either raw (which sounds surprising) or undercooked. Neolithic people ingested the eggs of these parasites and they passed through their body.

These sorts of parasites, called capillariid worms, do not usually infect humans and when they do they tend to lodge in the liver rather than pass through the body.

It is the first time that intestinal parasites (endoparasites) have been discovered in Neolithic people. Dr. Piers Mitchell from Cambridge’s Department of archaeology, the lead author of the study, said: “This is the first-time intestinal parasites have been recovered from Neolithic Britain, and to find them in the environment of Stonehenge is really something”.

Cattle were herded more than 60 miles to the Stonehenge site where they provided food for feasts. Cattle offal was on the menu at the celebration but it was undercooked or raw. They decided that it was a winter feast.

They believe that the builders were engaged in the second phase of Stonehenge’s construction when the “trilithons” (the two large vertical stones supporting a third horizontal stone) were installed.

Source: The Times and the Cambridge University Press.

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