A research project of the Department of Archaeology
Project Contact - Dr Angela Perri
COFUND Junior Research Fellowship funded by the European Commission’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions
Parasitic infection represents the most significant global disease burden, with the World Health Organization documenting over 3.5 billion people affected by intestinal parasitic infections. These infections, many of which are passed from animals to humans, pose a significant global health challenge, particularly in terms of prevention, treatment and prediction of future outbreaks. Public health researchers are working to understand the complex set of factors influencing zoonotic parasite prevalence now (e.g., livestock-keeping, animal fecal contamination) and to predict those which will affect future populations (e.g., increased reliance on bush meat, changing culinary practices, pet-keeping).
Despite recent research which shows pathogens to be a main selective pressure throughout human evolutionary history, little is known about the origins of parasitic infections, including those passed from animals to humans (zoonoses). Zoonotic infections have been considered infrequent in prehistoric hunter-gatherer populations, being more commonly associated with highly-populated agricultural settlements and cities. Yet, recent work suggests zoonotic parasites may have been widespread in prehistory and likely played a key role in past human-animal-environmental interactions and the evolution of human health. The rise in human populations, increased sedentism, and particularly the introduction of domesticated livestock associated with the Neolithic Revolution undoubtedly affected the incidence of zoonotic disease across Europe. Most zoonotic infections are contracted through animal fecal contamination of food and water supplies, farming and animal husbandry, and pet-keeping. Changing culinary practices during the Neolithic may have also contributed to a rise in zoonotic parasitic infections through the consumption of infected animal products. While the majority of paleoparasitological work has focused on the Middle Ages and later, relatively little is known about paleoparasites prior to this time in Europe, particularly in earlier prehistory. My research program considers research questions related to zoonotic disease during the transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural lifeways in prehistoric Europe, focusing on the introduction of domesticated livestock and changing culinary practices, paralleling work from later time periods.