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Thread: Ancient poop from Roman-era Ephesus shows that rich and poor had different parasites

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    Ancient poop from Roman-era Ephesus shows that rich and poor had different parasites



    Forbes: Ancient Roman Poop Shows Rich And Poor Were Infected By Different Parasites

    "Using samples of ancient poop and dirt from a private house, public latrine, and harbor, a group of researchers has concluded that the rich and poor inhabitants of Ephesus, Turkey, may have been infected by different parasites.
    [...]
    The new study, undertaken by an international research team led by University of Cambridge researchers Marissa Ledger and Piers Mitchell, used sediment samples from three different areas in Ephesus for their parasite analysis.

    The first, a public latrine, produced samples from a drain associated with the Varius bath complex dating to the 6th century AD. Public latrines were open to everyone, but were particularly used by the lower classes who did not have private, residential toilets.

    From the drain of a private latrine in a nearby terrace house dating to the 1st-3rd centuries AD, researchers scraped mineralized material presumably created by higher class people, as it was expensive to have these facilities installed in a residence.

    The researchers also took samples of sediment from the harbor canal at Ephesus, which was in use from the 1st century BC through the 6th century AD. Drains from both public and private latrines eventually fed into the harbor, where the refuse was washed out to sea. Using a microscope, Ledger and colleagues discovered parasite eggs in every single poop sample they tested. The pattern that emerged from the differing species found, however, was surprising.

    The public latrine produced roundworm eggs, while the private latrine had whipworm. Both roundworm and whipworm were found in the harbor canal; symptoms of both parasites in infected humans include abdominal pain, weight loss, anemia, and rectal prolapse. "The fact that both these species of parasite are spread by the fecal contamination of food and drink," the researchers write, "highlights that sanitary issues were the dominant factor resulting in the spread of parasites in this population." Handwashing hygiene was not, it seems, up to contemporary standards.

    Ledger and colleagues were also surprised both at the low number of parasite species they found -- just two -- and by the fact that only roundworm was found in the public latrine. "Ephesus was a major trading centre in Roman Asia Minor," they explain. "We expected to find a low number of species in the house latrine due to the small number of people using it, while we expected a larger number of species in the communal public latrine, as large numbers of people and likely more visitors would have used this every day. However, only one species, roundworm, was found in the sewer drain of the public latrine."

    This new analysis does not shed light on why the rich and poor poop was infested by completely different parasites, nor why only two species were found. But the researchers have a guess. "The results from those sites so far studied in Roman period Asia Minor do appear to contrast with those from northern Europe during the same period where many more species were present. This may be due to differences in climate, diet, cooking, medical practices, and the preservation of parasite eggs in different archaeological environments.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    Forbes: Ancient Roman Poop Shows Rich And Poor Were Infected By Different Parasites

    "Using samples of ancient poop and dirt from a private house, public latrine, and harbor, a group of researchers has concluded that the rich and poor inhabitants of Ephesus, Turkey, may have been infected by different parasites.
    [...]
    The new study, undertaken by an international research team led by University of Cambridge researchers Marissa Ledger and Piers Mitchell, used sediment samples from three different areas in Ephesus for their parasite analysis.

    The first, a public latrine, produced samples from a drain associated with the Varius bath complex dating to the 6th century AD. Public latrines were open to everyone, but were particularly used by the lower classes who did not have private, residential toilets.

    From the drain of a private latrine in a nearby terrace house dating to the 1st-3rd centuries AD, researchers scraped mineralized material presumably created by higher class people, as it was expensive to have these facilities installed in a residence.

    The researchers also took samples of sediment from the harbor canal at Ephesus, which was in use from the 1st century BC through the 6th century AD. Drains from both public and private latrines eventually fed into the harbor, where the refuse was washed out to sea. Using a microscope, Ledger and colleagues discovered parasite eggs in every single poop sample they tested. The pattern that emerged from the differing species found, however, was surprising.

    The public latrine produced roundworm eggs, while the private latrine had whipworm. Both roundworm and whipworm were found in the harbor canal; symptoms of both parasites in infected humans include abdominal pain, weight loss, anemia, and rectal prolapse. "The fact that both these species of parasite are spread by the fecal contamination of food and drink," the researchers write, "highlights that sanitary issues were the dominant factor resulting in the spread of parasites in this population." Handwashing hygiene was not, it seems, up to contemporary standards.

    Ledger and colleagues were also surprised both at the low number of parasite species they found -- just two -- and by the fact that only roundworm was found in the public latrine. "Ephesus was a major trading centre in Roman Asia Minor," they explain. "We expected to find a low number of species in the house latrine due to the small number of people using it, while we expected a larger number of species in the communal public latrine, as large numbers of people and likely more visitors would have used this every day. However, only one species, roundworm, was found in the sewer drain of the public latrine."

    This new analysis does not shed light on why the rich and poor poop was infested by completely different parasites, nor why only two species were found. But the researchers have a guess. "The results from those sites so far studied in Roman period Asia Minor do appear to contrast with those from northern Europe during the same period where many more species were present. This may be due to differences in climate, diet, cooking, medical practices, and the preservation of parasite eggs in different archaeological environments.
    "
    They did the same kind of analysis at Pompeii, but to find out about diet. What people have to do for science! :)

    I'm actually surprised, as they apparently were, that there wasn't much more infestation.

    I wonder if there were a lot of these worms because human feces was used for fertilizing crops (as happens nowadays), but then why is one type found in richer people and one in poorer people?

    https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/roundworm/causes/

    Nowadays you get both round worm and whip worm mostly from dogs, I think, which is why I wash my hands so many times a day, and am scrupulous about getting my dog de-wormed, and also getting him the medication for heartworm.

    Hygiene isn't that great even now. I'm always appalled by those studies showing how big a percentage of people, especially men, don't wash their hands after using the restroom. It has made me re-think that whole shaking hands at the drop of a hat thing. True story, one of my uncles in law, a very observant Catholic, reads a lot of "science" articles, and was so appalled that he never, ever, shakes hands with anyone, not even during the "Kiss of Peace" at Mass. He gets such strange looks that he started going to Mass at the chapel of the monastery nearby where most of the participants are behind steel bars and so can't expect it of him. :) Yes, he's eccentric, a loveable eccentric, but undoubtedly a bit mad.


    Non si fa il proprio dovere perchè qualcuno ci dica grazie, lo si fa per principio, per se stessi, per la propria dignità. Oriana Fallaci

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