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Proc Biol Sci. 2018 Oct 3;285(1888). pii: 20180991. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2018.0991.

Molecular archaeoparasitology identifies cultural changes in the Medieval Hanseatic trading centre of Lübeck.

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Department of Zoology, Peter Medawar Building for Pathogen Research, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3SY, UK.
Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3QY, UK.
Rega Institute for Medical Research, Clinical and Epidemiological Virology, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, KU Leuven-University of Leuven, 3000 Leuven, Belgium.
Archäologie und Denkmalpflege der Hansestadt Lübeck, 23566 Lübeck, Germany.
Oxford Archaeology Ltd., Janus House, Osney Mead, Oxford OX2 0ES, UK.
Masaryk University Brno, 60177 Brno, Czech Republic.
Hochbauamt der Stadt Zürich, Abteilung Unterwasserarchäologie, 8008 Zürich, Switzerland.
Universität Tübingen, 72070 Tübingen, Germany.
Regierungspräsidium Stuttgart, Landesamt für Denkmalpflege, 78467 Konstanz, Germany.
Department of Zoology, Peter Medawar Building for Pathogen Research, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3SY, UK


Throughout history, humans have been afflicted by parasitic worms, and eggs are readily detected in archaeological deposits. This study integrated parasitological and ancient DNA methods with a large sample set dating between Neolithic and Early Modern periods to explore the utility of molecular archaeoparasitology as a new approach to study the past. Molecular analyses provided unequivocal species-level parasite identification and revealed location-specific epidemiological signatures. Faecal-oral transmitted nematodes (Ascaris lumbricoides and Trichuris trichiura) were ubiquitous across time and space. By contrast, high numbers of food-associated cestodes (Diphyllobothrium latum and Taenia saginata) were restricted to medieval Lübeck. The presence of these cestodes and changes in their prevalence at approximately 1300 CE indicate substantial alterations in diet or parasite availability. Trichuris trichiura ITS-1 sequences grouped into two clades; one ubiquitous and one restricted to medieval Lübeck and Bristol. The high sequence diversity of T.tITS-1 detected in Lübeck is consistent with its importance as a Hanseatic trading centre. Collectively, these results introduce molecular archaeoparasitology as an artefact-independent source of historical evidence.


ancient DNA; archaeology; diet; genetics; parasitology; trade

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