12th-century latrine still holds parasites from the crusaders' feces

The medieval crusaders may be long gone, but some of them left behind something a bit personal. In a ruined castle in Cyprus, researchers discovered a latrine that still contained the fecal parasites of the European invaders.

After King Richard I of England invaded Cyprus in 1191, he ordered the castle Saranda Kolones built on the island's Western corner. The castle was destroyed 30 years later in an Earthquake, and by then King Richard had sold control of the island to Guy de Lusignan, king of the crusader state of Jerusalem. Saranda Kolones was never rebuilt, meaning that the only people who pooped there were Richard's crusaders.

That's very exciting for researchers who study feces, or rather, the parasites that are hidden within. University of Cambridge archaeology and anthropology researchers Evilena Anastasiou and Piers D. Mitchell decided to rehydrate the dried fecal matter found in the castle's latrine and see what sorts of parasites afflicted the residents of Saranda Kolones during that narrow 30 year window.

Controlling for the possibility of later contamination, the researchers discovered that these crusaders' feces contained eggs of roundworms (Ascaris lumbricoides) and whipworms (Trichuris trichiura), two parasites that are transmitted faecal-orally. The researchers note that 15-20 percent of crusaders in long expeditions died of malnutrition or infectious disease, and these parasites would have contributed to the former. During long sieges and periods of famine, the last thing you'd want is a parasite competing for your nutrients.

Saranda Kolones isn't the only medieval castle to have its latrines swabbed; Anastasiou and Mitchell mention comparing their findings to those from Latrines in the mainland eastern Mediterranean regions to get a more complete picture of the health environment of castles during the Crusades.

The paper appears in the June edition of the International Journal of Paleopathology.

Photo credit: Evgeniapp/Shutterstock.

This Castle’s Toilet Still Holds Parasites From Crusaders’ Feces [Surprising Science via Neatorama]