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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Staff

Ms Susan Aylard

(email at s.m.aylard@durham.ac.uk)

Biography

I hold a BSc in Biology (2003) and a BA in Anthropology (2008) from the University of Victoria, Canada and an MSc in Palaeopathology with distinction from Durham University (2009).

Research Topic

Does parasitic infection correlate with stress during childhood? Exploring the impact of poor living environments on the development of skeletal indicators of “stress” and parasitic infection in the bioarchaeological record.

Abstract

Helminthiasis, infestation with intestinal worms, is still one of the most common childhood infections worldwide and is currently considered a neglected tropical disease. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 880 million children currently require treatment for infection with roundworm (Ascaris lumbricoides), whipworm (Trichuris trichiura) and/or hookworm (Ancylostoma duodenale and Necator americanus); the majority of these children are between the ages of one and fourteen years (WHO, 2013). Impact of infection varies depending on the species of worm(s) present, intensity of infection, and nutrition of the host. Although these intestinal helminth infections are rarely the direct cause of death, they can negatively impact the host’s nutrition, growth, physical fitness and cognitive abilities. These same parasites have been infecting people for thousands of years and have been recovered from both Old and New World archaeological sites.
This study will combine the microscopic analysis of soil samples from sub-adult burials and the macroscopic analysis of skeletal remains from the same burials to determine if there is a correlation between the presence of human intestinal parasites, as seen in soil samples associated with burials of sub-adults, and non-specific nutritionally and environmentally related “stress indicators” observed on skeletal remains. The focus of the study will be on sub-adult individuals, because it is during childhood that the majority of the non-specific “stress indicators” develop on the skeleton; this is also the age group most likely to have intensive infections with Ascaris and Trichuris, the two species of intestinal worms most commonly found to infect people (WHO, 2013) and also most commonly identified from archaeological sites. In addition, the recovery of parasite eggs from individual burials will provide an estimation of the prevalence of parasite infections for that population that cannot be obtained from studies of latrine sediments and coprolites. This unique study can contribute to our understanding of the skeletal impacts of intestinal parasite infections and to our general knowledge of human health and living conditions in the past. 

References

World Health Organization (WHO) 2013. Intestinal Worms http://www.who.int/intestinal_worms/more/en/index.html 

Research Groups

  • Bioarchaeology Research Group