Medieval feces shows Crusaders struggled with worms and hygiene

NICOSIA Tue Jun 25, 2013 10:15am EDT

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NICOSIA (Reuters) - Medieval feces discovered at an ancient castle in Cyprus has revealed that the Crusaders suffered from a bad case of the worms, and had poor hygiene habits.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge have discovered that occupants of a 12th century Crusaders' castle in western Cyprus were rife with parasites, reaffirming previous research which suggested high mortality rates among Crusaders from malnutrition and infectious diseases.

Tests on latrine samples in the Saranda Kolones castle, a crusader fortress which was built after King Richard I of England captured Cyprus during the Third Crusade in 1191 AD, showed two species of parasite eggs, the roundworm and the whipworm, prevalent in the soil of what was once a cesspit.

Both types of parasites can live in the human gut, and their eggs are released through bowel movement.

The parasites are transmitted orally and evidence of their presence reflects the poor hygiene conditions that prevailed in medieval castles, according to researchers Evilena Anastasiou and Piers D. Mitchell.

"The discovery of these parasites highlights how medieval crusaders may have been at risk of malnutrition at times of siege and famine, as these worms competed with them for nutrients," they wrote in the International Journal of Paleopathology.

Modern research has shown that intestinal parasites absorb nutrients from the diet before they can be absorbed by the host, leaving those with poor diets vulnerable to malnutrition.

The ancient toilets were half-circle holes cut into what appeared to be a rock seat, connected by a sewer below.

Poor hygiene seems to have taken its toll among crusaders. An estimated 15 to 20 percent of crusaders in long expeditions died from malnutrition and infectious diseases, on a par with those who died from wounds in battle.

Saranda Kolones, which literally means "Forty Columns" was occupied for about 30 years. It was abandoned after an earthquake in 1222 and never rebuilt.

(Writing By Michele Kambas, editing by Paul Casciato)

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