An omnivorous tapeworm up to ten metres long lurking in the coils of a human intestine, consuming all that the host body consumes, its presence eventually leading to severe intestinal problems, anaemia and chronic hunger. That is just one of several parasitical issues the inhabitants of an ancient Bronze Age settlement in south-eastern Britain may have faced as archaeologists uncover more evidence from the 3000 year old site of Must Farm in Cambridgeshire. The location was a river-side home to a small community of farmers, fishermen and traders that flourished from 1000-800 BCE until their dwellings, platform-like structures sitting on stilts above the low waters at the shore, were consumed in flames, collapsing into the mud beneath, preserving a wealth of historical materials. From a report by The Guardian:
By living over the water, the Must Farm residents were somewhat protected from common parasites such as roundworms, which are spread by direct faecal contamination of food. But the location left them vulnerable to other infections.
Thick reed beds and stagnant water beneath the huts made sure that excrement dumped in the marsh did not travel far; instead it provided fertile ground in which the parasites could thrive and infect the local wildlife. That wildlife, eaten raw or undercooked, acted as the disease vector spreading the worms to the human residents and their pets.
While some superficial comparisons have been made between the stilt houses at Must Farm and the semi-contemporaneous crannóga of Ireland, the dwellings in Britain are closer to the mainstream of European pile homes during the Neolithic and Bronze periods. Below is a good BBC documentary from 2016 on the archaeological discoveries at the site, aptly titled “Britain’s Pompeii: A Village Lost in Time”.