Ancient Parasite Uncovered from Burial Site in Syria (Representational Image) [Wikimedia Commons/Bildspende von D. Andreas Schmidt-Rhaesa]
Ancient Parasite Uncovered from Burial Site in Syria (Representational Image) [Wikimedia Commons/Bildspende von D. Andreas Schmidt-Rhaesa]Wikimedia Commons/Bildspende von D. Andreas Schmidt-Rhaesa

Scientists have unearthed some evidence of a primitive human parasite from Syria. The parasite was found in an ancient burial site in Syria. Eggs of the parasite that is known to infect people even today, were also found close to the burial site of a child, who is believed to have lived about 6,200 years ago in a primitive farming community.

"We found the earliest evidence for a parasite [that causes] Schistosomiasis in humans," said Piers Mitchell, study co-author and a biological anthropologist at the University of Cambridge in England. 

The parasite egg comes from a region close to the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the Middle East, the region where some of the early irrigation methods were developed around 7,500 years ago.

"The finding suggested that with the advances in farming techniques, human infection also soared with water-borne worm," Live Science quoted Mitchell.

The parasite, Schistosoma, reside in freshwater snails and get into human skin when humans wade into fresh water. The parasite, in Middle East, infects the blood vessels of the kidneys resulting in blood loss through urine, anemia and even bladder cancer. In Africa, the parasitic worm infects the bowels, leading to bleeding and anemia. The parasite can also spread through its eggs when shed in urine or feces of infected people.

"Studies in Africa in modern times have shown that farming, irrigation and dams are by far the most common reasons why people get Schistosomiasis," said Mitchell.

The egg was found with 26 skeletons at the burial site called Tell Zeidan. The site was inhabited by people around 7,800 to 5,800 years ago, said study co-author Gil Stein, the director of excavations and an archaeologist at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

Soil samples were collected from around the skeletons' abdomens, where the parasite was expected to be found. Parasitic contamination can spread through the feet and heads as well.

Although, the irrigation technology at Tell Zeidan has no signs of it now, remnants of barley and wheat were found at the site.

"There was not enough rainfall for barley to grow by itself, but it would have flourished with irrigation. The farmers could have waded into the water-covered fields, to do weeding and planting, and the rivers' warm, slow-moving water would have been an ideal breeding ground for the snail hosts of the parasite," Stein added.

The team of researchers further wants to examine the genetic material of the parasite and find out if the flatworm has evolved since it started infecting humans.

 The details of the findings have been published in the journal  Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Quick Links