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Hygiene in medieval times was pretty dismal but that wasn’t the case for many Augustinian monks living in Britain’s monasteries.
Despite a modest lifestyle, the friars enjoyed proper latrines and hand-washing facilities to wipe off the filth and pathogens that would afflict commoners of the era.
Researchers recently studied the human remains from a friary buried below the University of Cambridge and compared them to the skeletons of commoners from a nearby cemetery.
They found that from the 19 monks buried there – a majority of them from the 13th and 14th centuries – more than 11 of them were infected with worms. But when they checked on the commoner remains, the team found that only eight of 25 adults had parasites.
The team noted that the staggering figure – about 58 percent of monks – was very surprising and prompted speculation about this increased rate of infections. They suggested that the humble monks might have picked up the parasites when using feces from the latrines as fertilizer for the crops – a very common practice at the time.
Scientists noted that the excrement could have contained the parasites, which were then ingested by the friars.
Written records also showed that the monks and medieval medicine people were aware of the worms, but didn’t know how they spread among individuals.
The study offers more insight into what other factors can contribute to the spread of pathogens, as well as finding better ways to control and eradicate them today.