8,000 years ago, 3,000 before the invention of the first toilet, we already had intestinal parasites
Once upon a time ... man. Those are the basic conclusions of a team led by Piers Mitchell, a professor at the University of Cambridge and one of the world's leading experts on human coprolites; that is, in fossilized excrement.
It is not a strange paraphilia, no. Few things say as much about ourselves as our depositions. In fact, when four coprolites were found in one of Çatalhöyük's middens, the first thing that came to mind for Mitchell and his team was not the parasites, it was the possibility of seeing one of the most important changes in human history .
We are what we defecate
Because we have coprolites of a similar age in Africa or America, what we didn't have were fossilized stools from the beginning of the Neolithic. The discovery of Çatalhöyük, in southern Anatolia, set off all the alarms: it is the largest and best preserved urban complex from the Neolithic era and the transition to the metal age.
In Çatalhöyük, up to four thousand people lived on very primitive agriculture. The stool found there, compared to that found in other paleolithic sites, would allow us to understand how we changed by looking at how our diseases changed.
Once the team found evidence confirming that the coprolites were human (thanks to sterols and bile acids), the team focused on the parasites. It was then when, among the remains of an omnivorous diet already rich in vegetables, they found earthworm eggs. "It was a special time to identify the parasite's eggs that are over 8,000 years old," explained Evilena Anastasiou, co-author of the study.
They were eggs of Trichuris trichiura or whipworm, worms that reach between 30 and 50 millimeters in length and live attached to the large intestine where they can lay more than 5,000 eggs a day. But the key to this is that it is a human disease: we were not only seeing an 8,000-year-old parasite, we were seeing a parasite that had evolved with us: they reflect, as the researchers explain, the great change that human beings experience. And all that in a ... a coprolite.