Medieval Latrine Preserves Crusaders’ Intestinal Parasites

Bible and archaeology news

Researchers took fecal samples preserved in this latrine in the medieval castle of Saranda Kolones in Cyprus. The eggs of parasites were discovered in the samples, indicating the poor health practices and conditions of the Crusaders. Image from Anastasiou & Mitchell, International Journal of Paleopathology.

The 12th-century Crusaders left some historically valuable remains at a medieval castle in Paphos, Cyprus—specifically, in the castle’s toilets. Researchers from the University of Cambridge found human feces preserved in one of the latrines of a castle called Saranda Kolones, built by King Richard I of England in the western corner of the island during the Third Crusade in 1191 C.E. Saranda Kolones was in use for 30 years until it was destroyed by an earthquake, by which point Cyprus had been sold to Guy de Lusignan, the king of Jerusalem. The castle was never rebuilt and thus preserved the remnants found inside one of the ancient toilets.

What the researchers discovered from testing samples of the feces were the eggs of two types of roundworms: those of whipworms (Trichuris trichiura) and those of giant roundworms (Ascaris lumbricoides). The presence of these worms suggests that the castle residents practiced poor hygiene and consumed contaminated food and water. Heavy infection with these worms would have taken an extreme toll on the residents’ bodies, leading to malnutrition, physical impairment and even death. Study of these ancient intestinal parasites contributes to our understanding of health and disease on medieval military expeditions.

BAS Library Members: Read more about ancient and medieval latrines in the following articles:

Hershel Shanks, “First Person: Privies and Privacy,” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2012.

Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow, “Roman Latrines,” Archaeology Odyssey, May/June 2004.

Jane M. Cahill, Karl Reinhard, David Tarler and Peter Warnock, “It Had to Happen,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 1991.

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