Neolithic: from the mud of Eden to pandemics

About 12,000 years ago (or perhaps earlier), someone in the Levant deliberately planted the seeds, perhaps tended the seedlings, and then harvested the adult plants. So agriculture was born. It appeared independently in several places: Mesopotamia (wheat and barley), sub-Saharan Africa (millet and sorghum), Southeast Asia (rice and bananas), China (again millet and rice), the Papua New Guinea plateau (Taro root), Mesoamerica (corn, beans and tomatoes), and South America (potatoes).

In the same period there was another revolution. One of the inhabitants of Eastern Anatolia changed his mind to immediately kill a captured lamb or sheep, and instead began to take care of the animal and eventually raised a whole herd. Humans have a long history of interacting with animals. In the cave of Chauvet in France there are ancient (numbering 26,000 years) footprints of a child who was accompanied by a dog very similar to a wolf. People from the West who traveled among hunters and gatherers in the twentieth century constantly talk about women who looked after the cubs of wild animals and chewed food for them. But raising an entire herd of animals represented a transition to another level, a new symbiosis that was partly mutualistic and partly parasitic. Animals gave milk, skin, meat and muscle strength. In exchange, humans fed them and protected them from predators.

About 8000 years ago, and maybe even earlier, people began to raise cattle, domesticating wild bison in the middle East and India. We tamed the wild boar 13,000 years ago in Mesopotamia and then in Eastern Eurasia. Chickens are descended from wild chicken in Southeast Asia. And horses came from the meadows of modern Kazakhstan about 5500 years ago.

The new closeness of hominids, birds, ungulates and pigs made possible an unprecedented exchange of parasites and pathogens. In addition, the sedentary lifestyle created new ecological niches for animals that were not directly domesticated. It is believed that wolves began collecting food waste around human settlements in Southeast Asia about 14,000 years ago, thus initiating a process of domestication that eventually led to the emergence of a dog [45]. In addition, farming involved the storage of grain, which attracted rodents. In the Middle East, this example was followed 10,000 years ago by a small desert cat that became the ancestor of all domestic cats. Each new human companion brought its parasites with it. Pigs increased the number of human contacts with the spiral Trichinella (Trichinella spiralis) – a terrible parasite that penetrates the muscles and brain of man. It is because of it that it is always necessary to boil or roast pork well. Cats brought the parasite “Toxoplasma gondii” (Toxoplasma gondii), the life cycle of which covers feline and their victims from among rodents. Dogs, in all probability, brought this kind krivohlavy as Ancylostoma duodenum (Ancylostoma duodenale). Rodents added their parasites — rat tapeworm (Hymenolepis diminuta) and the dwarf tapeworm (Hymenolepis nana). In those days, these parasites were relatively harmless, especially compared to the killer parasites that humans had yet to encounter, but they had their price, so the first inhabitants of the cities show signs of a heavier parasitic load.

Residents of the settlement of Chatalheyuk in Central Turkey, which is 9,000 years old (it is often called the world’s first city), suffered from chronic anemia and porotic hyperostosis, in which there are many small holes in the bones. Around the same time, the first verifiable case of tuberculosis appeared. In a submerged village off the coast of Israel, a twenty-five-year-old woman and a child are buried, who have certain signs of tuberculosis.

In the Levant, however, the first farmers were generally in better health than their hunter-gatherer predecessors. Their teeth were better. Male farmers lived longer. (They were also six times less likely to suffer head injuries than their nomadic ancestors.) However, one aspect of life deteriorated: farmers had bone lesions, indicating the presence of inflammatory diseases. For anthropologists, this does not necessarily mean infection, but rather an enhanced immune response. As we saw above, as the contact with the pathogens have become increasingly common proinflammatory trends have become more favorable traits. The reverse side of this process-the tendency to chronic inflammation. A clear confirmation of the existence of such a compromise was inscribed on the bones.

The wider picture of diseases also changed. In the Paleolithic era, when people lived in small groups, parasites used the marathon approach, which was reduced to long-term survival in the host body and causing it as little damage as possible. However, in larger groups has become acceptable, another method of microbial blitzkrieg.

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