Thursday, 20 June 2013

Ancient Toilet Reveals Parasites in Crusader Poop


Waste from this ancient toilet in Paphos contains traces of common parasites.
CREDIT: Anastasiou and Mitchell, International Journal of Paleopathology, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpp.2013.04.003 


Researchers from the University of Cambridge dug into the pit of dried-out waste under a latrine in the remains of Saranda Kolones (Greek for "Forty Columns") at Paphos, a city at the southwestern tip of Cyprus and a UNESCO World Heritage site. [Through the Years: A Gallery of the World's Toilets]

Overlooking Paphos harbor, and next to a complex of Roman villas with remarkably intact floor mosaics, Saranda Kolones was long thought to be a temple because of the granite columns that littered its ruins. But excavations in the 1950s revealed that it was actually a short-lived concentric castle.

English King Richard the Lionheart sold the island of Cyprus to the Frankish crusader Guy de Lusignan in May 1192. Archaeologists believe the Franks built Saranda Kolones to defend Paphos harbor soon after their occupation of the island began. But in 1222, the city was rocked by a powerful earthquake thought to be at least 7.0 in magnitude. Much of the fortress was left in ruins, never to be rebuilt, but the latrines on its lower floors survived.

These toilets were carved to fit the human form, with a half moon-shaped hole in the seat leading to a sewer below. Cambridge researchers Evilena Anastasiou and Piers Mitchell, who study ancient parasites, collected samples from one of those cesspools, rehydrated the waste and strained it through a micro-sieve to catch parasite eggs, each smaller than a tenth of a millimeter.

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