Intestinal parasite infection in the Augustinian friars and general population of medieval Cambridge, UK.

Tianyi Wang, C Cessford, JM Dittmar, S Inskip, Peter M Jones, Piers D Mitchell

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To investigate how lifestyle may have impacted the risk of contracting intestinal parasites in medieval England . Regular clergy (such as those living in monasteries) and the lay population form interesting groups for comparison as diet and lifestyle varied significantly. Monasteries were built with latrine blocks and hand washing facilities, unlike houses of the poor.

Sediment samples from the pelvis, along with control samples from feet and skull, of 19 burials of Augustinian Friars (13th-16th century), and 25 burials from All Saints by the Castle parish cemetery (10th-14th century), Cambridge.

We analysed the sediment using micro-sieving and digital light microscopy to identify the eggs of intestinal parasites.

Parasite prevalence (roundworm and whipworm) in the Augustinian friars was 58%, and in the All Saints by the Castle parishioners just 32% (Barnards Test score statistic 1.7176, p-value 0.092).

It is interesting that the friars had nearly double the infection rate of parasites spread by poor hygiene, compared with the general population. We consider options that might explain this difference, and discuss descriptions and treatment of intestinal worms in medical texts circulating in Cambridge during the medieval period.

This is the first study to compare prevalence of parasite infection between groups with different socioeconomic status from the same location.

Quality of egg preservation was suboptimal, so our data may under-represent the true prevalence.

Suggestions for further research
Larger studies with greater statistical power, covering different time periods and regions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-121
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Paleopathology
Early online date19 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

TW is funded by a CSC Cambridge International Scholarship (no. 202008190001). We are grateful to the Duckworth Collection and the Cambridge Archaeological Unit for access to the skeletons and samples from the two sites.


  • Helminth
  • Monastery
  • Paleoparasitology
  • Sanitation
  • Roundworm
  • Whipworm


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