What shipwrecked insects reveal about life at sea in the 17th century


A big deal Romance these days is associated with the “Age of Sail”, the period between the 15th and 19th centuries when wooden sailing ships reached their technological pinnacle. However, historians have a less rosy outlook. Surviving journals and logs from the era do not paint a particularly pretty picture of conditions aboard.

A new paper provides insight from an unlikely source. Written by Eva Panagiotakopoulou, an entomologist at the University of Edinburgh, and Ana Caterina Garcia, an archaeologist at the Nova University in Lisbon, and published in biological attack, the paper examines two shipwrecks off the Azores, both dated to around 1650. The first, known as the Angara C, is believed to be a Dutch ship; The other, Angra D, was Spanish.

Both expeditions to the wreckage have recovered remains ranging from ropes, tools and buckets to sheaves of wheat and decking planks – as well as the remains of various species of insects. The researchers were interested in how sailing ships transport invasive species from one continent to another. But their findings also shed light on the unpleasant realities of life at sea in the 17th century.

Among the preserved insect parts were the wings of the American cockroach, periplaneta americana, (Despite its name, it is not originally from the Americas.) In addition to its conspicuous lack of charisma, this species lives off garbage and spreads serious diseases, including salmonella. More than 30 individuals fly from a species called Dohrniphora cornuta was also identified. It is often found in rotten food, and is also fond of excreta and urine.

how is piophila There is another fly known as the “cheese skipper”. It lays its eggs on cheeses, dried meats and smoked fish. It also has an appetite for rotting human flesh, and gets its name because its larvae readily “leave” corpses to feed on. The researchers also excavated the remains of Tichomyza fusca, Widely known as the “urine fly” because its larvae thrive in urine-soaked wood.

An ocean-goers’ journal from the 1600s noted that “most of the people did not bother to go upstairs to defecate themselves.” Whether this was actually common practice is debated. Dr. Garcia and Panagiotakopoulou’s stomach-turning findings suggest that it was. But it’s a detail that’s likely to be left out of the next “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie.

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