Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Waste of Crusaders

Who knows what future archaeologists will deduce from our camping sites. But we are certainly getting interesting information from historical crap. First, there are promising signs that an ancient toilet may provide clues about the people who wrote the dead sea scrolls. Now, paleopathologists have identified the cause of dysentery that devastated the Crusading armies of the 12th and 13th centuries (from Science - May 30, 2008):

"I had read the descriptions of dysentery in Crusader armies recorded in medieval chronicles but could not tell which organisms were responsible," says Piers Mitchell of Imperial College London. Detecting dysentery-causing parasites by microscope from archaeological samples is difficult because the cysts are tiny and degrade in soil. So the team used an assay (ELISA) that uses antibodies specific to proteins produced by the parasites.

Samples were taken from two locations in Israel: a cesspool used by the citizens of Acre and the Hospital of St. John, whose latrines were used by knights, soldiers, and pilgrims. The researchers unveiled traces of two dysentery-causing parasites, Entamoeba histolytica and Giardia duodenalis, at the St. John Hospital latrine. No parasites were found in samples from the cesspool, suggesting that locals didn't suffer from the problem, the researchers write in July's Journal of Archaeological Science.