Sunday, May 15, 2016

Viking excrement shows plenty of parasites in intestines

Dr. Andrew "Bone" Jones has been an enthusiastic paleoscatologist for over 30 years. Jones specializes in excrement (scatology) and parasites (parasitology)

Although Jones is now officially retired he is still quite active. He has spent over 30 years working for the York Archaeological Trust. He discovered in the trust's archives the famous "Lloyds Bank turd," believed to be the largest intact piece of fossilized human excrement ever found. The Viking responsible for the specimen apparently had very itchy bowels as inside the the turd or coprolite were found an infestation of eggs of the parasitic worm ascaris lumbricordes. Jones said of the worm: “They bore through tissue and have been known to emerge from every orifice of the human body – including the corner of your eye. Isn’t that horrible!” Jones rates the stool "as precious as the crown jewels."
The faeces was originally found in 1972 underneath the site of what was to become the York branch of Lloyds Bank. Analysis of the stool shows that the Viking who produced it lived mostly on meat and bread. The presence of several hundred parasitic eggs shows that he or she was riddled with parasitic worms. In 2003 the specimen was dropped while on exhibition to a party of visitors and broke into three. However, it was reconstructed. Since 2008 it has been on display at the Jorvik Viking Center.
Another type of worm in the faeces is the whip worm or trichuris nematodes.The worms were probably an everyday fact of people's lives. They were particularly evident in older people. Jones said: “I think my most interesting discovery is just how widespread parasitic diseases were in western Europe before the introduction of flushed lavatories in the early part of the 20th century."
While others may marvel at the latest Venus statue found in a pit in Tunis, Jones is interested in the excrement found alongside these finds since it can reveal much about how people lived. Jones said: “Within the archeology classics community there are a small number of people like me, who are really interested in filth, waste disposal and water supplies as an archeological discipline. We map a history of disease.” In his most recent work he has been busy taking scrapings from white encrustations found inside pipes and Roman toilets.
Jones claims poo as part of his cultural heritage. He grew up in a dairy farm in Devonshire. Jones said: “Cows aren’t the most continent animals, they just crap anywhere when it suits them, so excrement was just part of my cultural heritage and I didn’t think of it as anything odd.”
Jones said that people in his field tend to do more than just study excrement. Anyone interested in the field must be prepared to spend hours looking through a microscope. Jones said: “You’ve got to be prepared to spend hours and hours looking down microscopes. But you also need to be quite sociable and make friends with some archaeologists who can supply you with samples to look at. And then you need to be able to write up your findings, or nobody will know you found anything.” Jones said that one needed to keep a sense of perspective, that looking at old pieces of excrement was a bit odd but that he was still proud to be called a scatologist and that the world actually needed a few people like himself.


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