Conservation, Research and Education Opportunities International

Paleoparasitological study of zoonosis in Patagonia, Argentina

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M.O. Beltrame 

Paleoparasitology is focused on the parasitological examination of materials found in archeological and paleontological deposits. It has the potential to provide information about various cultural, paleoecological and evolutionary aspects. Parasitic relationships are sensitive indicators of developmental, ecological and cultural aspects of host populations – they can reveal potential exposure of humans and animals to zoonotic diseases, associations with wild animals, prey consumption, domestication, mobility and demographic trends. This study proposed the first paleoparasitological study of rodent coprolites (fossilized feces) from the Huenul 1 cave in Neuquén, Argentina, a site that contains stratified sequences of archeological and paleontological remains assigned to the late Pleistocene-early Holocene period and evidence of brief but repeated human use at different stages of settlement of northern Patagonia.

The researchers examined twenty rodent coprolites from strata ranging from 1,400 to 14,000 years before present. Morphology was recorded, coprolites were dissected and 158 parasitic eggs were collected and analyzed. Coprolites were assigned to southern viscacha (in the chinchilla family). Fossil viscacha bones were also recovered from the site; the lack of markings on the bones suggest that they naturally occupied the cave as opposed to being preyed upon by human inhabitants. One species of nematode and two species of cestode eggs were identified in the coprolites.

Humans were probably exposed to all of the parasites found given the timeline of cave use. The nematode found is not known as a zoonotic at present; however, the cestodes are known to cause human illness. Along with other analyses currently underway, these types of findings contribute to the paleoecological reconstruction of Patagonian ecosystems and an understanding of the common biogeography of parasites and hosts over time. ($5,950)