A new analysis of remains from medieval Cambridge shows that local Augustinian friars were almost twice as likely as the city’s general population to be infected by intestinal parasites.
This is despite most Augustinian monasteries of the period having latrine blocks and hand-washing facilities, unlike the houses of ordinary working people.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology say the difference in parasitic infection may be down to monks manuring crops in friary gardens with their own faeces, or purchasing fertiliser containing human or pig excrement.
The study, published today in the International Journal of Paleopathology, is the first to compare parasite prevalence in people from the same medieval community who were living different lifestyles, and so might have differed in their infection risk.
The population of medieval Cambridge consisted of residents of monasteries, friaries and nunneries of various major Christian orders, along with merchants, traders, craftsmen, labourers, farmers, and staff and students at the early university.
Cambridge archaeologists investigated samples of soil taken from around the pelvises of adult remains from the former cemetery of All Saints by the Castle parish church, as well as from the grounds where the city’s Augustinian Friary once stood.
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