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Zoonotic Disease and Human-Animal Interactions as Proxies for Ancient Lives 

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. 

Key publications 

  • Camacho, M., Perri, A., & Reinhard, K. 2020. Parasite microremains: preservation, recovery, processing and identification. In Handbook for the Analysis of Microparticles in Archaeology. Henry, A. Springer, New York.
  • Borry, M., Cordova, B., Perri, A., et al. 2020. CoproID predicts the source of coprolites and paleofeces using microbiome composition and host DNA content. PeerJ 8 : e9001.
  • Perri, A., et al. 2019. Dietary variation among indigenous Nicaraguan horticulturalists and their dogs: an ethnoarchaeological application of the Canine Surrogacy Approach. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 55 (101066).
  • Perri, A., et al. 2019. New evidence of the earliest dogs in the Americas. American Antiquity 84 (1): 68-87.
  • Janssens, L., Perri, A., et al. 2019. An evaluation of classical morphologic and morphometric parameters reported to distinguish wolves and dogs. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 23: 501-533.
  • Perri, A. … & Roberts, C. 2018. Detecting hidden diets and disease: zoonotic parasites and fish consumption in Mesolithic Ireland. Journal of Archaeological Science 97: 137-146.
  • Perri, A., et al. 2018. Evidence of zoonotic parasites at Derragh, Co. Longford. In Irish Quaternary Association Field Guide (35). Irish Quaternary Association, Dublin.
  • Ní Leathlobhair, M.*, Perri, A.*, et al. 2018. The evolutionary history of dogs in the Americas. Science 361(6397): 81-85.
  • Guagnin, M., Perri, A., & Petraglia, M. 2018. Pre-Neolithic evidence for dog-assisted hunting strategies in Arabia.  Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 49: 225-236.