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Durrington Walls was a large Neolithic settlement in Britain dating around 2500 BCE, located very close to Stonehenge and likely to be the campsite where its builders lived during its main stage of construction. Nineteen coprolites recovered from a midden and associated pits at Durrington Walls were analysed for intestinal parasite eggs using digital light microscopy. Five (26%) contained helminth eggs, 1 with those of fish tapeworm (likely Dibothriocephalus dendriticus) and 4 with those of capillariid nematodes. Analyses of bile acid and sterol from these 5 coprolites show 1 to be of likely human origin and the other 4 to likely derive from dogs. The presence of fish tapeworm reveals that the Neolithic people who gathered to feast at Durrington Walls were at risk of infection from eating raw or undercooked freshwater fish. When the eggs of capillariids are found in the feces of humans or dogs it normally indicates that the internal organs (liver, lung or intestines) of animals with capillariasis have been eaten, and eggs passed through the gut without causing disease. Their presence in multiple coprolites provides new evidence that internal organs of animals were consumed. These novel findings improve our understanding of both parasitic infection and dietary habits associated with this key Neolithic ceremonial site.
Little is known about the types of intestinal parasites that infected people living in prehistoric Britain. The Late Bronze Age archaeological site of Must Farm was a pile-dwelling settlement located in a wetland, consisting of stilted timber structures constructed over a slow-moving freshwater channel. At excavation, sediment samples were collected from occupation deposits around the timber structures. Fifteen coprolites were also hand-recovered from the occupation deposits; four were identified as human and seven as canine, using fecal lipid biomarkers. Digital light microscopy was used to identify preserved helminth eggs in the sediment and coprolites. Eggs of fish tapeworm (Diphyllobothrium latum and Diphyllobothrium dendriticum), Echinostoma sp., giant kidney worm (Dioctophyma renale), probable pig whipworm (Trichuris suis) and Capillaria sp. were found. This is the earliest evidence for fish tapeworm, Echinostoma worm, Capillaria worm and the giant kidney worm so far identified in Britain. It appears that the wetland environment of the settlement contributed to establishing parasite diversity and put the inhabitants at risk of infection by helminth species spread by eating raw fish, frogs or molluscs that flourish in freshwater aquatic environments, conversely the wetland may also have protected them from infection by certain geohelminths.
The early village at Çatalhöyük (7100–6150 BC) provides important evidence for the Neolithic and Chalcolithic people of central Anatolia. This article reports on the use of lipid biomarker analysis to identify human coprolites from midden deposits, and microscopy to analyse these coprolites and soil samples from human burials. Whipworm (Trichuris trichiura) eggs are identified in two coprolites, but the pelvic soil samples are negative for parasites. Çatalhöyük is one of the earliest Eurasian sites to undergo palaeoparasitological analysis to date. The results inform how intestinal parasitic infection changed as humans modified their subsistence strategies from hunting and gathering to settled farming.
Since the mid-19th century, rare prehistoric wooden carvings and human skeletal remains have been dredged from Pitch Lake, Trinidad, during commercial asphalt mining. Establishing a chronology for these objects is challenging, due to both a lack of stratigraphic and contextual information and the necessity to completely remove any pitch to ensure accurate radiocarbon (14C) dates. A range of solvent extraction protocols was tested to identify the most suitable one for pretreating the Pitch Lake artifacts, and then applied to ten wooden objects and a human cranium recovered from the lake. Several of these objects yielded earlier dates than expected, raising concerns that pitch had remained after pretreatment and had affected the dates. Pyrolysis-GC/MS and optical microscopy techniques were applied to material from the human cranium, a weaving tool, and a small bowl. These techniques, as well as routinely applied laboratory quality assurance procedures, indicated that there was no residual pitch within the cranium or the weaving tool after pretreatment, giving confidence to the dates. However, the small bowl was observed to still be contaminated with pitch after extensive pretreatment, indicating that the date is too old and can only be considered as a terminus post quem.
Objects imported over long distances often have rich biographies, not least a collection of bronze objects found in a peat bog in Estonia that included an elaborate lamp of Roman origin. Combining new scientific approaches with earlier observations and traditional archaeological analysis, the authors reconstruct the provenance, possible itinerary and changing use of the lamp over half a millennium, and across thousands of kilometres. They highlight its variable roles, from luxurious illumination to valuable raw material. The results demonstrate the importance of looking beyond the original time and place of manufacture, and beyond the primary function when constructing the biographies of imported objects.
Coprolites can provide detailed information about the nutritional habits and digestive processes of the animals that produced them and may also yield information about the palaeoenvironment in which the animal existed. To test the utility of the lipid biomarker approach to coprolite analysis, lipids were extracted from a coprolite of the Pleistocene ground sloth Nothrotheriops shastensis. Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry results revealed a dominant spiroketal sapogenin component identified, using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, as epismilagenin. The dominance of epismilagenin is probably due to ingestion of Yucca spp. and Agave spp., which is consistent with previous studies on the diet of this species.
Part of a large male woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) was preserved in permafrost in northern Yakutia. It was radiocarbon dated to ca. 18,50014C yr BP (ca. 22,500 cal yr BP). Dung from the lower intestine was subjected to a multiproxy array of microscopic, chemical, and molecular techniques to reconstruct the diet, the season of death, and the paleoenvironment. Pollen and plant macro-remains showed that grasses and sedges were the main food, with considerable amounts of dwarf willow twigs and a variety of herbs and mosses. Analyses of 110-bp fragments of the plastid rbcL gene amplified from DNA and of organic compounds supplemented the microscopic identifications. Fruit-bodies of dung-inhabiting Ascomycete fungi which develop after at least one week of exposure to air were found inside the intestine. Therefore the mammoth had eaten dung. It was probably mammoth dung as no bile acids were detected among the fecal biomarkers analysed. The plant assemblage and the presence of the first spring vessels of terminal tree-rings of dwarf willows indicated that the animal died in early spring. The mammoth lived in extensive cold treeless grassland vegetation interspersed with wetter, more productive meadows. The study demonstrated the paleoecological potential of several biochemical analytical techniques.
Microstratigraphy — the sequencing of detailed biological signals on site — is an important new approach being developed in the Çatalhöyük project. Here the authors show how microscopic recording of the strata and content of widespread middens on the tell are revealing daily activities and the selective employment of plants in houses and as fuel. Here we continue to witness a major advance in the practice of archaeological investigation.
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