Stone age disease in the north – Human intestinal parasites from a Mesolithic burial in Motala, Sweden

Publication date: August 2018Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 96
Author(s): Jonas Bergman
Eggs from an intestinal parasite has been found in a burial radiocarbon dated to 5210-4840 cal BC in Motala, east-central Sweden. The two helminth eggs are identified as Trichuris trichiura (human whipworm). Control samples from the cemetery site were all negative and confirmed that there was no evident contamination of younger material. This discovery raises new questions concerning the early geographical spread and timing of parasitic diseases among hunter-gatherer societies in northern Europe, and in the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere. Whipworm infection (Trichuriasis) is perhaps the disease most associated with crowding and poor sanitation, and as it manifests itself in the youngest dated burial, it could be a contributing factor to the final abandonment of the Mesolithic settlement. Also, parasite eggs found in a soil sample from the Neolithic Alvastra pile dwelling could indicate the continued presence of the Trichuris parasite in east-central Sweden. Generally, parasite ecology can aid in reconstructing human behaviors that include aspects of sedentism, mobility, food preferences, hygiene and other social practices.